Join our Mailing List

"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Apple Bars China App for ‘illegal’ Content, including Tibet

April 8, 2013

By Jamil Anderlini

April 4, 2013 - Apple has removed at least one online application from the China App Store because it provides access to books that are banned by the Chinese government, according to the developer of the app.

Hao Peiqiang, the developer of an online bookstore app called “jingdian shucheng”, received a letter from Apple’s “App Review” on Thursday morning telling him his app will be removed because it “includes content that is illegal in China”.

Apple did not specify what content it was referring to, but Mr Hao told the Financial Times he believed the offending content consisted of three books by Wang Lixiong, the Chinese writer whose works are mostly banned in China.

The app only offers 10 book titles, including the three by Mr Wang, and has not been removed from app stores outside China.

The decision by Apple to remove the app in China came just days after Tim Cook, chief executive, issued an apology to Chinese customers for the company’s perceived arrogance and said Apple had a lot to learn about operating and communicating in China.

That apology came after weeks of scathing attacks from China’s state-controlled media that began with an expose on primetime television featuring deficiencies in Apple’s after-sales service but evolved into a co-ordinated campaign attacking nearly every aspect of the company’s operations in China.

“Friends of mine tell me that Apple has had a censorship policy in place for at least two years so I’m not sure if my app’s removal has anything to do with Apple’s recent trouble,” Mr Hao told the FT. “But the app has been operating normally for the last two months until now without any problems.”

Other western technology companies such as Yahoo and Google have faced serious international criticism for agreeing to censor content or hand over personal information of individuals at the behest of the Chinese state, but Apple has so far managed to avoid much scrutiny of its content management policies in China.

Apple is not a member of the Global Network Initiative, a group co-founded by Google, Yahoo and Microsoft several years ago to promote online privacy and free expression. In its rules for developers, Apple says that apps released in any country “must comply with all legal requirements in any location where they are made available to users”.

“This is an issue that we’ve been waiting to hit the news – there’s so much foreign content available through the app store that has not been directly approved by the Chinese government,” said Jeremy Goldkorn, director of Danwei, a company that researches Chinese media and internet and is a subsidiary of the Financial Times.

“In the wake of the recent apology, I imagine Apple China employees have been told to be extra careful about anything at all that could get them in trouble in China.”

The three books by Wang Lixiong that Mr Hao believes Apple has identified as “illegal content” are all banned in China.

Mr Wang is married to Woeser, a prominent Tibetan poet, and the couple are both well-known political activists who have been subjected to periodic persecution and intimidation by China’s state security apparatus.

One of the banned books, entitled Tianzang, is about the future of China’s policies in Tibet while another, Yellow Peril, is a political novel about the future collapse of China’s government and society.

The third book – My Western Territory, Your Eastern Land – is a personal memoir of the author’s visit to the troubled territory of Xinjiang and his subsequent detention at the hands of state security officers.

On Thursday, Mr Wang told the FT he had not contacted Apple to enforce his copyright over the books.

“So I believe the decision to take down [the bookstore app] must be because of political reasons [and not because of issues over intellectual property],” Mr Wang said.

Mr Hao said he had never received any complaints over copyright and he was sure Apple had decided to remove his app from the China store because of the content in Mr Wang’s books.

Phone calls and written requests to Apple for comment on its decision to remove the app and whether or not other apps had been removed in China went unanswered on Thursday.

Additional Reporting by Gu Yu and Tim Bradshaw
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
Developed by plank