Mobile app attribution in China: Key challenges, requirements, and steps

By John Koetsier April 29, 2021

You’re a hotshot mobile app publisher. You have tens or even hundreds of millions of users in the U.S., Europe, and South America. You’re growing fast and looking to expand even faster. And you can’t help but turn your wandering eye to that massive and growing country in Asia with 1.4 billion people, 989 million internet users, and literally 40% of the world’s mobile app spend.

Close your mouth. Stop drooling. It’s not going to be easy.

But it is doable, with a bit of knowledge. And some time. And, yes, some investment.


This is part two of a three-part blog series on taking mobile apps to China.

Check out part one, where we overview the Chinese market. Part three is coming soon.


If you are looking to get set up to do business in China, you need to be forearmed with some knowledge. As we shared in the first post, almost everything is different: top apps, cloud services, payment providers, authentication vendors, even app UI/UX standards. Oh, and did we mention the language?

(More on how to prepare your app for China in our next blog post.)

There’s a lot of work to do outside of your specific app in order to get set up for business in China. I spent some time with Alon Nafta, Singular’s VP of Product, and Xiaoli He, one of our business leaders in China. The focus of our conversation: what you need to do to launch your mobile app in China, and what you need for mobile attribution once you have it running. That includes needed integrations, fraud prevention, and data processing and storage requirements. And, of course, all the legal requirements run a mobile-based business in China.


Xiaoli He & Alon Nafta


John Koetsier: Let’s start here … how long does it take to get set up to do business in China?

Alon Nafta: All things considered, probably six to twelve months, all things considered. That’s a ballpark: your mileage may vary.

Xiaoli He: Yes it will take some time.You need to get your Business License first,to register your domain,to do ICP Filling to get your ICP License and other related licenses as required.After that you need to set up your local servers and start to operate.


John Koetsier: Where does your technology stack need to live? Your data? And, your attribution vendor’s stack?

Alon Nafta: It’s very simple: you need to have servers in domestic China to process data, and there are limitations around the data that can be sent out. 

In a nutshell, no personal data can leave China.


John Koetsier: What are the most important integrations you need to set up?

Xiaoli He: Tencent, which covers WeChat. Bytedance/Ocean Engine, which also covers TikTok (Douyin in China), Kuaishou, Huawei, Vivo, OPPO, Baidu, and Mintegral is a good starting point.


John Koetsier: What are the data processing and storage regulations in China? Is there legislation similar to GDPR/COPPA that app developers should be aware of when entering the region?

Alon Nafta: There are also a number of cybersecurity regulations in China that companies need to abide by. There’s a good overview of it on Wikipedia.

Xiaoli He: Yes, as the development of internet service and technology, China government is constantly improving laws and regulations to protect user privacy.Game developers need to follow this regulation 关于防止未成年人沉迷网络游戏的通知 (or Notice on Preventing Minors from Indulging in Online Games) which is to protect children under the age of 18 years old. The goal of the regulation is that they do not spend too much time or too much money on games. Players will need to key in their ID number, and by regulation the game can not be played by minors after 10PM and before 8AM the next day . Also, minors cannot play more than 1.5 hours during work days and play more than 3 hours during holiday.


John Koetsier: How can you know that you’re compliant with all the various regulations and laws? Who checks? What’s the process?

Alon Nafta: As a company running web-based services in China you are required to get an ICP license. ICP stands for “Internet Content Provider.” This (and your business registration in China) serve as your official ID in China. In addition, with some of the large partners such as Tencent and Baidu you are getting certified or accepted into their programs individually, somewhat similar to how it’s done with Facebook and Google. 

Xiaoli He: It depends on your business. Take game developer for example. The Local Bureau of Culture, Bureau of Industry and Information Technology and Copyright Administration will issue the licenses and will check whether your operation follows the regulations and laws.

Here’s a list of some of the important components you’ll need when entering the China market with your mobile game:

  1. Business License: 营业执照
  2. Website Internet Content Provider Filing: 网站ICP备案
  3. Network Culture Business License: 网络文化经营许可证
  4. ICP license Alon mentioned: 增值电信业务服务许可证
  5. Also, game developers with in-app purchases will need to get a Game License before they can operate their game. This can be tough, because the number of licenses is very limited: 网络游戏电子出版物审批 (游戏版号)
  6. Game Operation Filing: 文化部游戏运营备案
  7. Software Copyright: 软件著作权


John Koetsier: It looks pretty complicated … what are the consequences of getting it wrong?

Xiaoli He: Your game simply cannot be published and distributed if you do not have the required licenses and certificates.

Alon Nafta: In addition, your app can be rejected and you can be removed from China if you don’t get all the required licenses, or you’re found to be in contravention of the regulations. If that happens, your servers will be seized, your traffic will get blocked, and you will not be allowed to operate.


John Koetsier: what are the unique requirements from an attribution provider to have a robust infrastructure for China?

Xiaoli He: Essentially, you need to set up a local server, integrate with local partners and android stores. Note that Chinese developers like to share revenue (CPS)  with media partners and like to run APK distribution with them as well.


John Koetsier: Is it important to have the same attribution provider in China as you have in the rest of the world?

Alon Nafta: Yes. The most important reason why is to simply have all your marketing data in a single place. Of course, you want to ensure that this single place is the best possible tool for the job (shameless plug: which would be Singular!) Also, you don’t want to have overlaps across users who might travel, or use app stores all over the world via VPN or something like that … but this is not a very big problem.


John Koetsier: What’s different about running mobile attribution in China?

Xiaoli He: The biggest difference is simply that there is no Google Play in China. There are many Android app markets in China: each mobile phone manufacturer has its own app store and there are many third-party app markets online as well. And, of course, as we already mentioned, you need to have a local Chinese business entity and get an ICP (Internet Content Provider) license to run any internet related business.


John Koetsier: How many app stores/markets do you need to integrate with to get 90% coverage?

Xiaoli He: Of course on iOS, you have the App Store in China as well as anywhere else. So you only need one for iPhone and iPad, and that’s a reason a lot of international app developers start on iOS when they try to enter the Chinese market. On Android, there are many as I mentioned, and Huawei, Vivo, Oppo, and Xiaomi are some of the top manufacturers with their own app markets. There’s also 360 Mobile Assistant, Baidu Mobile Assistant, Samsung’s app store, and many more.


John Koetsier: What about mobile app install fraud in China?

Alon Nafta: Just like anywhere else, that definitely exists. You need a mobile attribution provider with a strong fraud suite, and I think Singular’s is best in class here. Clearly, you need to be able to detect fraud on Android especially well, as the majority of the market is Android-based.


John Koetsier: Thank you Alon and Xiaoli for your answers!


Looking to enter the Chinese market with your apps? Book some time to chat about how Singular can help you grow your business in China with our China-specific attribution services and deep integrations with the major industry players.



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