REPORT: Apple Working With Chinese Government To Censor And Surveil Its Citizens

(Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images)

Varun Hukeri General Assignment & Analysis Reporter
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Apple has repeatedly given in to escalating demands from the Chinese government, abetting the communist regime’s censorship and surveillance of its citizens, according to internal company documents reviewed by The New York Times.

Apple’s latest data center in the city of Guiyang, expected to be completed in June, will store Chinese users’ information on servers run by a state-owned Chinese firm, the Times reported. Apple reportedly abandoned its encryption technology after the Chinese government objected, and state employees will manage the servers and security tools used to secure information.

Security experts and Apple engineers told the Times that the tech giant’s acquiescence to the Chinese government meant it would be nearly impossible for the company to stop authorities from accessing emails, photos, documents, contacts and locations of millions of Chinese citizens.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has long touted his company’s commitment to civil liberties and privacy, and has called privacy a “fundamental human right” in the past.

But Nicholas Bequelin, the Asia director of human rights group Amnesty International, told the Times that Apple’s acquiescence to the interests of China’s government betrayed those prior commitments.

“Apple has become a cog in the censorship machine that presents a government-controlled version of the internet,” he said. “If you look at the behavior of the Chinese government, you don’t see any resistance from Apple — no history of standing up for the principles that Apple claims to be so attached to.”

Apple reported around 15% of its revenue last year came from Chinese consumers and sales in the country increased roughly 57%, according to Reuters. The Chinese government was likely able to leverage its economic influence to force Apple to hand control of user data to a state-owned firm, the Times reported. (RELATED: Why Do So Few US Companies With Business In China Speak Out About Genocide? Look What’s Happening To H&M)

China’s government under President Xi Jinping has taken an increasingly assertive posture toward foreign companies in recent years. The Times also reported that 55,000 apps have been wiped from Apple’s App Store in China since 2017. The apps included games, news outlets, dating services and messaging platforms.

An Apple spokesman told the Times the company did “everything it could” to keep users’ data safe. They also said Apple has “never compromised the security of [their] users or their data in China” and still controls the encryption keys for user data.

Apple’s cooperation with the Chinese government has become more widely known in recent years. The company came under scrutiny in 2017 when following reports that its new data center in China would allow authorities to potentially access information on political dissidents and seize foreign technology. (RELATED: Apple CEO Blasts Georgia Voting Law, But Has Stayed Silent On Chinese Repression)

Apple also came under fire in Oct. 2019 after removing an app popular among pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong, which the Chinese government said was being used for “illegal behavior.” Apple similarly followed China’s wishes by refusing to create or distribute content on Apple TV that could make the country look bad, multiple reports revealed last December.

Apple has also lobbied against legislation that would prevent American companies from funding forced labor funding forced labor in China’s Xinjiang autonomous region, where millions of Uyghur Muslims have been reportedly detained in re-education camps.