November 14, 2017

REPORT: Apple Helped China Limit Internet Freedom

Tech DC November 14, 2017

An explosive new report, which found China beat the likes of Syria and Iran for the “dubious title of the country with the world’s worst internet freedoms,” notes the Asian country could not have achieved that title without the help of tech giant Apple.

Apple is complying with new Chinese laws that are restricting the freedoms of its citizens, according to the Freedom House study.

“One of the most worrying developments is the new cyber security law where companies have a greater onus to engage in censorship of their users,” said William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International.

The law, which took effect in June, requires multinationals in China to store user data. Companies such as Apple have already begun building new data storage facilities in the country to comply.

In July, Apple quietly began removing virtual private network (VPN) apps from its app store in China that allow users to get around the restrictive country’s so-called “Great Firewall.” VPNs would allow users in China to access the full, unrestricted internet – a luxury not afforded to ordinary Chinese citizens without such an app.

But according to the Financial Times, while VPNs were once considered a trivial matter, China has begun cracking down on their use:

“This year’s censorship is even less visible and has been about plugging holes once deemed too trivial, like VPNs or entertainment,” said Ms Wang.

China’s cyber space authorities impose annual crackdowns on virtual private networks, which allow internet users to bypass China’s firewall. However, interference on “unapproved VPNs” caused especially large disruptions in the lead-up to October’s Communist party congress, the country’s most important political gathering that is held every five years.

Apple’s willingness to appease China’s efforts to restrict the freedom of information and ideas is at best troubling. At worse, it’s deeply hypocritical, as Apple CEO Tim Cook continues to publicly attack President Trump on issues like immigration and the environment.

In September, China jailed a man for using VPNs. And last month, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) sent a bipartisan letter to Cook demanding to know why Apple is limiting internet freedom by deleting VPN apps from its app store.

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