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You are here: MacNN Forums > News > Mac News > Apple comes under fire after pulling Chinese anti-censorship app

Apple comes under fire after pulling Chinese anti-censorship app
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MacNN Staff
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Oct 5, 2013, 09:19 PM
Apple's decision this past summer to remove a censorship circumvention tool from the Chinese App Store has drawn criticism from some claiming that the iPhone maker is kowtowing to that country's authoritarian government. Users of Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo recently voiced their frustrations online, according to CNN, claiming that Apple showed it has no integrity in removing the app Open Door. The app is still available in other App Stores outside of China.

The app in question is a browser that masks users' identities as they surf the Internet. It also circumvents China's well-publicized censorship protocols, allowing Chinese users access to banned material on the Internet. It was available in the Chinese App Store until July of this year, when Apple pulled the program.

Prior to its removal, Open Door was seeing around 2,000 daily downloads, according to the Daily Mail. The developers say they received no prior notification from Apple that their app was about to be pulled. They claim that the removal was unjust, given that the app is only a browser and that any information accessed comes at the user's own discretion

Apple countered that apps are beholden to the laws of the countries in which they are sold.

Despite their disagreement with Apple, Open Door's developers say they will not challenge the decision. They say they fear retaliation from Apple if the issue were to become more publicized.

"Unfortunately," one developer told CNN, "we're not aware of any app developer ever [who was successful] in challenging Apple's decision. In fact, we won't be surprised if Apple decides to pull our app from all App Stores and/or terminates our account in retaliation."

Apple's decision drew complaints from social media users and Chinese anti-censorship protestors. "The fruit is contaminated," one Sina Weibo user wrote. "Where is your integrity!" wrote another.

Apple has previously pulled apps from the Chinese App Store in order to meet government censorship requirements. In April, the company removed a book-selling app that gave users access to banned texts.

The Open Door development is indicative of the troubles U.S. technology firms face doing business in China. While the world's most populous nation is a prime market for U.S. firms, its restrictive policies often run counter to American ideals.
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Oct 6, 2013, 09:47 AM
Wikiquote says there's no evidence that Soviet dictator Lenin every said this, but it has proved so apt, the remark is often repeated:

"We will hang the capitalists with the rope that they sell us."

Except that in this case a capitalist obediently not selling a rope that might be used to hang China's repressive government.

And even more apt quote is one that makes a distinction you have to look carefully for:

"The problem with socialism is socialism. The problem with capitalism is capitalists."

In other words, socialism's problems are inherent to the ideology. An all-powerful state is always a dangerous state. Capitalism's problems lie with who is running a company. Some can be good, some can be bad.

You might recall that, years ago, Google helped the Chinese government block access to certain sites, only pulling out when China had enough expertise to manage the job on their own. Apple's behavior here, Google's behavior then, and the general assistance most high-tech companies offered the NSA illustrate what I call the Geek Syndrome. The same bent to a geek's mind that causes them to be obsessed with gadgets often makes it hard for them to put themselves in the shoes of others and to understand their feelings. In the case of this iOS app, it's the feelings of China's dissidents.

There are other examples. Check out the cities listed in iOS7's Clock apt and you'll discover a revealing pattern. All the other entries have countries. Jerusalem and Taipei don't. Arab countries dislike the fact that the city, with the majority of its population Jewish, is a part of Israel. The Chinese government doesn't like the fact that Taipei is the capital of democratic Taiwan.

Keep central to your mind that the countries not being recognized are stable democracies that respect human rights, while the countries whose governments want to deny that country's right to exist are repressive dictatorships.

The same is true of the Falkland Islands. iOS7's Clock app listens dozens of obscure little island groups. It doesn't list the Falkland Islands, despite their democratic government because there's a dictatorship (in this case Argentina) that's hostile to their independence.

There's perhaps two reasons for that. The one I have already mentioned is the Geek Syndrome. The other is a distinction between doing something a democratic government dislikes and doing something a repressive dictatorship dislikes. The UK isn't going the hinder the sales of Apple products in the UK because iOS 7 fails to mention the Falklands and the same is true of Israel and Taiwan. But that's not true of Argentina, the Arab world, or China.

In the end, the key problem with capitalism is the cowardice of the capitalists. With money as their dominate value, all other values, particularly democratic ones, tend to get ignored.
Author of Untangling Tolkien and Chesterton on War and Peace
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Oct 6, 2013, 10:15 AM
The iOS 7 clock app lists Stanley, Falkland Islands.

It also lists Gaza and Hebron, as belonging to "Palestinian Territories".

And while you're readjusting your theories, you might want to account for the fact that China owns nearly ten percent ($1.1 trillion) of US public debt, and that nearly all electronics goods could not be manufactured in the quantities and at the prices needed, were it not for China.

The obvious solution of "not doing business with China" is not quite so simple.

Also, throwing two completely context-free quotes out there that mention socialism and capitalism does not mean that this subject has much to do with either. ESPECIALLY considering that what Americans mean when they say "Socialism" includes everything from helping thy neighbor to outright Stalinism and Pol Pot's internment camps.
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Oct 6, 2013, 09:50 PM
And back on the article and topic at hand. Apple has to play by the countries rules it operates in. Nuff said.
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Oct 7, 2013, 09:53 AM
Apple pulls politically charged apps on either side of the spectrum. Read the developer guidelines, it's in there.
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