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Media & Entertainment

China kicks social network Douban out of app stores

Leading cultural platform under pressure from authorities and nationalists

Douban is most popular with educated young women from the country's major urban centers and is known for its analytical and influential reviews of books and movies.   © AP

HONG KONG -- Chinese regulators on Thursday removed 106 apps from the country's app stores for "excessive collection of personal information," including one of the country's leading cultural discussion platforms.

The removals by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which included popular karaoke app Changba, New York-listed ATRenew's used electronics trading platform AiHuiShou and social network Douban, quickly became the highest trending topic on Weibo, China's censored equivalent of Twitter.

The move means current users will be able to continue to use the affected apps, but new users will not be able to download them.

Didi Global, the country's leading ride-hailing service, has been suspended from app stores since July when regulators announced investigations of the company's data practices in the wake of its $4.4 billion initial public offering in the U.S.

Founded in 2005, Douban is most popular with educated young women from the country's major urban centers and is known for its analytical and influential reviews of books and movies as well as discussion forums.

Douban has taken a series of hits from regulators this year, beginning with 9 million yuan ($1.42 million) in fines imposed between January and November for reasons so far undisclosed. Last week, the company was fined 1.5 million yuan by the Cyberspace Administration of China for "unlawful releases of information."

Earlier, it suspended functions that allowed users to comment or reply to posts amid an official crackdown on what the authorities labeled as "chaotic celebrity fan culture."

Spokespersons for the company did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

The company has about 200 staff and raised $59 million from investors between 2006 and 2011. Its backers include the Chinese arm of Sequoia Capital and a fund run by German media group Bertelsmann.

Douban has come under pressure as nationalistic young men wield greater influence online. In recent months, it withdrew some reviews and closed at least eight feminist channels without giving reasons.

"Douban doesn't have enough manpower to do censorship on the platform, and it doesn't want to impose strict censorship either," a staffer told Nikkei Asia. "The consequence of not conducting heavy censorship is huge fines. Books, movies and music are dangerous in this country because they have a big impact on ideology."

Additional reporting by Cissy Zhou.

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