Apple: Playing by China’s censorship rules
The world’s most valuable company is helping “shore up the Great Firewall of China,” said April Glaser in Slate.com. Last month, Apple pulled more than 60 apps used to evade government censors from its app store in China, amid a broader crackdown on free speech by Beijing. The apps in question are virtual private networks (VPNs), which allow users to access websites blocked by China’s strict internet filters. The Chinese government recently started enforcing new cybersecurity regulations requiring VPN providers to obtain a state license, further solidifying Beijing’s grip on the Chinese internet. “We would obviously rather not remove the apps,” Apple CEO Tim Cook told investors last week. But “we follow the law wherever we do business,” he said.
Apple just lost the moral high ground on privacy, said Zack Whittaker in ZDNet.com. The company was hailed by many last year as a champion for online freedom, after it defied the FBI’s demands that it break the encryption on an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters. “How can Apple argue that the FBI breaking into a single iPhone is more detrimental to user security than reducing the security for an entire country?” The tech giant is setting a “dangerous precedent” for other regimes— “what happens in Beijing rarely stays in Beijing.” Russia, for instance, is also cracking down on VPNs. “It’s only a matter of time before other countries get similar ideas.” Apple is hardly alone in bending to Chinese censors, said Emily Parker in Wired.com. Amazon is also disabling VPNs in the country, while Facebook, which is banned in China, is said to be working on a censorship tool in hopes of winning government approval. When push comes to shove, American tech companies seem plenty willing to “abandon so-called Western values in order to access the huge Chinese market.”
Don’t be too hard on Apple, “which in difficult circumstances probably did the right thing,” said Tyler Cowen in Bloomberg.com. The company has to abide by local laws or risk getting kicked out of China altogether, which would be far worse for internet users there. The company still sells a number of other encrypted chat and messaging apps, so it’s “doing plenty to help Chinese citizens counter their censors.” I understand that Apple’s silent capitulation to Beijing “may be tactical,” said Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. China accounts for a quarter of its sales, and the country’s booming middle class represents a key area of potential growth. But it’s now shown the government that it is willing to bend. Apple could have pushed back just a little and “tested its political and economic leverage.” It could have threatened to look elsewhere to manufacture its products. If Apple can’t stand up to China, who can? ■