Apple refuses to create content that could make China look bad, a testament to the company’s dependence on Chinese markets and manufacturing.
The company’s determination to please Beijing affects a wide range of content, from what apps are published on the app store to what shows are produced on Apple TV. Apple has followed China’s wishes in order to ensure the company is allowed to do business there.
Apple TV is careful to please China when producing shows. Eddy Cue, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Internet software and services, and Morgan Wandell, the head of international content development, told creators in 2018 to avoid content that could portray China unfavorably, two sources told Buzzfeed. Cue also told partners that “the two things we will never do are hard-core nudity and China,” a source who worked with Apple told the New York Times.
Apple Told Some Apple TV+ Show Developers Not To Anger China- hey and don’t mention that Turkey is bad. We sell a lot of watches there. And don’t mention Saudi Arabia murdering journalists- they love the iMac and don’t mention Russia—big iPad market. https://t.co/1sHGO18MxX
— Judd Apatow (@JuddApatow) October 12, 2019
In the second half of 2018, Apple removed 517 apps at China’s request, the company’s transparency report shows according to Buzzfeed. Out of 56 requests made by the Chinese government to remove apps, Apple rejected or challenged just 2. According to Apple, the majority of the apps removed were for porn and gambling, but some of the apps were for news or private networking. The United States government did not request that any apps be removed, Buzzfeed reported.
Apple also provided customer data to China nearly every time it was requested, according to the report. When asked about a device, Apple provided data to the Chinese government 96% of the time, and when asked about an account, Apple provided data 98% of the time. Apple provided the same data to the U.S. government about 80% of the time when it was requested.
In 2019, Apple removed HKmap.live, an app that was designed to help pro-Democracy protesters in Hong Kong track police, Buzzfeed News reported. Chinese newspapers praised the company’s decision. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) outlet Global Times wrote, “Chinese netizens hail Apple’s removal of app that aids HK rioters.” One of the most-read stories in People’s Daily, the CCP’s official newspaper, was titled “Apple removes app which helped HK rioters elude police.”
An analyst for the Global Times wrote that “Apple highly values the Chinese market and removing the controversial app is a smart move,” Buzzfeed reported.
In 2019, TechCrunch reported that malicious websites had been used to gain access to iPhones over a 2 year period and were targeting Uighur Muslims. In the Chinese province of Xinjiang, over 1 million Uighur Muslims are believed to be imprisoned in forced labor camps where they suffer horrific human rights abuses. China was likely behind the malicious websites, sources told TechCrunch. (RELATED: China Appointed To UN Human Rights Council Panel Despite Appalling Human Rights Record)
In a blog post, Apple said that the attack was “narrowly focused” and only lasted for a period of 2 months.
“First, the sophisticated attack was narrowly focused, not a broad-based exploit of iPhones ‘en masse’ as described,” the company wrote. “The attack affected fewer than a dozen websites that focus on content related to the Uighur community.”
In order to comply with new laws in China, Apple began storing iCloud data for Chinese users in a data center in China in 2018, meaning the country no longer had to go through U.S. laws to access data like text messages and emails, Reuters reported. In 2017, the company removed the New York Times app from the app store in China at the request of the Chinese government.
“We just get a phone call from Apple and they say ‘We just got a call from the Chinese government’ and five minutes later our app is off the App Store,” the executive told BuzzFeed. “It’s not a line of communication that would be open to any discussion.”
Apple has “so much market power in general and they wield that pretty indiscriminately,” the executive said.