A new website created by researchers at Great Fire, an organization that monitors the Chinese internet to find out what the government is censoring, shows what the Apple tries to hide from the public with all its might: how the company has helped the Chinese government censor access to information to the population.
Known as AppleCensorship.com, the site shows which apps are not accessible in the Apple Store of China, indicating those that were removed by the company at Beijing’s request. Among the censored apps, you can find a variety of news apps, human rights and religious freedom information, as well as apps designed to improve browsing security and user privacy.
The fact that Apple cooperates with the Chinese government is nothing new: in 2017, the company admitted to US senators that it had removed from the Chinese App Store more than 600 VPNs – apps that prevented user navigation from being spied on by government and access to blocked sites in the country. Even so, the company never revealed what those apps were, nor did it even delete other programs at the request of the Chinese government.
The site reveals that in addition to VPNs, Apple also does not allow users in China to access apps from a variety of news organizations, including the New York Times, Radio Free Asia, Tibetan News and Voice of Tibet. Users in the country also can not access applications like Tor and Psiphon (apps that let you avoid China’s Internet censorship tools), the search for Google and Google Earth, the Bitter Winter app (which has information on human rights and religious freedom in China) and an app from the Tibetan Central Authority, which disseminates information on social problems and human rights of Tibetan citizens.
According to Charlie Smith, co-founder of Great Fire, the motivation for the creation of the site was that Apple was not at all transparent with the content that it has censored in the App Store of China, and many developers only realize that their app was censored to find a sudden drop in traffic and investigate the cause of the problem.
For the time being, the site still can not say exactly what the reason for the app’s withdrawal was, so it can not be said for sure if an app was removed from the store because of the Chinese government’s censorship of information and freedom of speech or whether violate other laws of the country, such as that which prohibits all types of gambling. But even if the site itself does not provide this information, it’s easy to find out why by searching the content of the removed app or looking for it if it’s available in other countries that have similar laws (in the case of game removal bad luck).
For example, Radio Free Asia has been censored by the Chinese government for decades because of its work to report human rights abuses committed in China by government agencies. Since the 1990s radio broadcasts have been blocked in the country, and we now know that Apple has helped block access to its contents over the internet.
In an interview with The Intercept, Rohit Mahajan, a spokesman for Radio Free Asia, revealed that in December last year an Apple representative had informed the vehicle that their app had been removed from the App Store in China because of ” legal grounds, “but offered no chance for the company to defend itself or appeal the decision.
Asked about this, Apple declined to comment on the removal of specific apps from the App Store of China and pointed to a clause in the rules of use of its store that requires the apps to comply with the specific laws of each country where will be released. In addition, the company said it reserves the right to remove them from specific stores if the application violates any local law.
Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, has publicly positioned himself as a supporter of user data privacy, declaring in October last year that “data privacy is a fundamental human right” – and that defense is at the heart of the CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. Despite this, Apple boss has defended some controversial decisions to operate within China, such as allowing a state-owned Chinese company to be responsible for managing iCloud servers in the country, giving the government access to all data of all iPhone users in the country.
From a business standpoint, it is easy to understand why Cook defends this agreement: after all, accepting it was an obligation imposed by the Communist Party for Apple to have access to the country’s market, one of the most profitable in the world and which has more than 800 millions of Internet users. But at the same time, it is bad for someone who exposes himself as a “privacy advocate” to quietly help a government that wants to monitor all of its citizens’ activities 24 hours a day.