Apple actively censors their own App Stores all around the world and reveal few details on which apps they censor and why they even censor in the first place. With AppleCensorship.Com, GreatFire aims to:
Expose Apple’s widespread censorship and its consequences
In particular, it is our hope that this website helps to illustrate how Apple’s practices impact the fundamental rights of access to information and privacy for millions of citizens living in authoritarian regimes or in countries where those rights are under threat.
Change the way Apple manages its App Stores, notably by:
Encouraging the company to rewrite the “App Store Review Guidelines”
Sharing with the public these new internal procedures for reviewing apps
Clearly stating which local laws have been violated when justifying app removal
Establishing an independent body to monitor and report on how Apple is implementing the company’s Human Rights Policy
You can read our full demands and join our effort by signing our petition.
GreatFire started monitoring Apple’s censorship in November 2013, when Apple decided to remove GreatFire’s “FreeWeibo” application from the Chinese App Store. The FreeWeibo app allowed users in China to access the government-blocked “FreeWeibo.com” website, which re-publishes messages that have been censored on the Chinese social network Sina Weibo.
The reason we originally chose to develop an iOS app for Apple users was that we believed that Apple was the kind of company that would support our goals. However, less than two months after uploading our app to the App Store, it was deleted by Apple, at the request of the Chinese authorities. Apple said FreeWeibo included “content that is illegal in China, which is not in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines”. Apple did not even wait for the intervention of any Chinese judicial authority to determine if our app had actually broken any Chinese law. It collaborated with the Chinese authorities and dealt with our app the same way it has continued to deal with many more apps: by imposing arbitrary and politically motivated censorship.
2013 saw numerous similar cases in which Apple deceptively used the pretext of complying with local laws to remove apps from its Chinese App Store. “JingDian ShuCheng”(经典书城), an app providing nonfiction books including several from multiple award-winning writer and scholar Wang Lixiong (王力雄) was censored. A few months later, Apple removed “OpenDoor”, a free app that provided users with a randomized IP address to keep their browsing habits anonymous and shielded from Chinese government censors. Again, the unsubstantiated reason was “illegal content”. These examples closely follow the removal of apps of independent media such as the Hong Kong-based iSun Affairs and U.S based NTDTV.
Apple has since continued to censor apps on its China App Store, on most occasions without offering the developers any further reason than “your app contains illegal content”. The scale of the removal of apps has continuously grown to reach a level of mass censorship by 2017, when the firm removed more than a thousand VPN apps from its China App Store.
A recent example of censorship by Apple is the removal of HKmap.live, a crowdsourced mapping application that was used by pro-democracy protestors and Hong Kong citizens in 2019. No specific local law was given to justify the removal of the app.
Today, news apps including The New York Times, the BBC, Yahoo Japan, Radio France International, Hong Kong-based Apple Daily, and the Tibet Times, are unavailable to Chinese citizens.
Apple’s Censorship is spreading. We need to end it!
Although the examples given above all involve the Chinese government, Apple operates in a similar way in a number of other countries where it has an App Store. In Russia, Apple has blocked Telegram from upgrading its app following a request from the authorities to block the application.
Such censorship practices not only spread to other countries but, seeing how Apple operates, other companies are encouraged to adopt similar behavior. In 2017, days after Apple removed anti-censorship tools from its App Store in China, Amazon moved to implement restrictions on online content in China.
Apple’s censorship practices have become more and more stealthy, as Telegram owner Pavel Durov recently described. The CEO of the private messaging app revealed that on October 10, 2020, his company had been pressured by Apple to censor content on their app.
Specifically, Apple demanded that Telegram remove 3 channels related to the Belarusian uprising, saying that they were “disclosing personal information.” Durov objected to the demands given that the channels were specifically designed to expose government oppressors. But the company had little choice – censor the content or Apple would ban Telegram from the App Store. What irked Durov even more however was that Apple demanded that Telegram users not be informed that this action was taken on Apple’s behalf. Apple believes that this information is “irrelevant.”
This is why we need to take action to end Apple censorship and discourage any company from compromising on freedom of information and freedom of expression.
We must compel Apple to stop depriving its users of their fundamental rights and, at the same time, to end the company’s unethical practices which violate human rights principles and international standards. We simply ask that Apple operate according to their stated values – respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Read and sign our petition.