Free speech? We’ve heard of that…
Apple has been accused of caving into Chinese government demands after quietly dropping an app that allowed users to bypass Beijing’s tough internet controls.
In what has become known as the ‘Great Firewall of China’, the People’s Republic outlawed global web browsing from IP addresses inside its borders in what was widely seen as an act of censorship. But the government’s crackdown has not deterred Chinese iPhone users from downloading apps that overcome the wall by randomising their IP, thus keeping their browsing information private while simultaneously enabling them to view the world beyond ‘permitted’ content.
One such app, Open Door, had been sold through Apple’s China App Store where it was being downloaded around 2,000 times a day.
But then, a few months ago, it was pulled by the Cupertino computer giant on the basis that it contained ‘illegal material’.
But the fact that the app is still available in the rest of the world has led to accusations that Apple is merely kow-towing to Beijing demands, especially as Chinese users were given no warning that it was about to be removed.
For app developers meanwhile, especially smaller ones, there is also the risk that challenging any stocking decision by Apple could easily result in being barred from selling programs on all the company’s App Stores.
But Apple’s ban on ‘illegal’ apps in China comes at a time when it is desperately trying to bolster sales in the Republic and where it has been in protracted talks with China Mobile – the nation’s largest carrier with around 750 million subscribers – about offering a subsidised iPhone on its network.
As a state-owned enterprise, China Mobile enjoys substantial protectionist benefits from the government and, rocking the boat with Beijing on censorship, may do Apple few favours.
Apple’s stance on China is in stark contrast with Google, which has been at pains to make the search function of Chinese browsers as wide reaching as possible.
So much so that, up until recently, there was even a tool telling users if they were searching for a term deemed illicit by Beijing’s rulers.
Sadly, that feature had to be dropped at the start of this year after clashes with the country’s communist regime.