Multiple reports are saying that leading Chinese phone manufacturers Xiaomi and Huawei have removed UC Browser, produced by China’s tech and retail giant Alibaba, from their online stores.
The reports in the western press are based on statements made by owners of Huawei and Xiaomi phones, although they note that some customers said the app is still available to them, as well as on Apple’s App Store China.
The ban is seen in the wider context of a dispute between the authorities and Alibaba founder and China’s wealthiest person Jack Ma. The immediate cause to block UC Browser appears to be criticism leveled at it by state media who said it was allowing misleading medical ads to be shown to users.
China’s CCTV said private hospitals can bid for the names of some of the country’s leading public hospitals, which would misdirect UC Browser users to these facilities’ websites.
Reacting to the accusations, an Alibaba spokesperson said the company was “checking and correcting” any problems related to the browser, as well as that illegal content that the Chinese state TV cited in its report got swiftly removed.
The focus on Alibaba, in this case its browser, came amid Beijing’s announced intention to further tighten the screws on China’s tech giants. President Xi Jinping warned earlier in the week that not all of them adhere to “standards” in their development practices, and that this poses “risks.”
Xi also spoke about tech platforms’ exponential growth and failure of his country’s regulatory system to keep up with them. He then pledged that efforts would be stepped up to regulate the domestic tech giants more closely.
Reports outside of China speculate that Alibaba started to be targeted by the regime in Beijing last fall out of fear that its size, particularly in the online retail market, could give it “undue” influence on public opinion, especially as the company has stakes in traditional and social media companies as well.
Last November, the $37 billion IPO of Ant Group, Alibaba’s affiliate and owner of China’s leading payment platform Alipay, got blocked by the authorities.