Late last December, in response to what the company alleges was a “request from Chinese authorities,” Apple removed a pair of news apps published by The New York Times from its Chinese language-based App Store. The move to censor these apps, even as questionable and unnecessary as it may seem, however, might not come as much of a shock to those with a basic understanding of Chinese politics.
The ruling Communist Party of China has for long maintained one of the world’s strictest controls over the news content that is delivered to its hundreds of millions of residents. And China’s main Internet regulatory agency, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), recently released an updated set of regulations, in June of last year — known as the Provisions on the Administration of Mobile Internet Application Information Services — that may, at least in part, explain why the move to censor The New York Times’ content was carried out.
According to CAC regulators, “apps cannot engage in activities prohibited by laws and regulations such as endangering national security, disrupting social order and violating the legitimate rights and interests of others.” In addition, Chinese law “prohibits the publication of ‘harmful information’ online, and will take the appropriate action without legal procedures or court orders against material deemed objectionable.”
Whether The New York Times apps actually violated any of these laws or provisions remains unclear; however, according to one Apple spokesperson, Cupertino has thus far obliged with requests, opting to — at least temporarily — remove both the English and Chinese language-based version of the Times apps from the company’s app store.
“For some time now the New York Times app has not been permitted to display content to most users in China and we have been informed that the app is in violation of local regulations,” said Apple spokesperson, Fred Sainz, of the app’s removal. “As a result, the app must be taken down [from] the [Chinese] App Store. When this situation changes, the App Store will once again offer the New York Times app for download in China.”
However, The New York Times’ Beijing offices, for their part, indicated that they hadn’t even been contacted by Chinese authorities yet, to the effect of their apps being removed from the store.
“The request by the Chinese authorities to remove our apps is part of their wider attempt to prevent readers in China from accessing independent news coverage by The New York Times of that country, coverage which is no different from the journalism we do about every other country in the world,” a Times spokeswoman, Ms. Eileen Murphy, said in an official statement.
Of course, while the process by which Apple validates censorship requests remains unclear, it’s important to note that this wouldn’t be the first time Cupertino has been called on by Chinese authorities to intervene in the censorship of content. And while Apple CEO, Tim Cook, has persistently maintained that his company will “continue to comply with all local and federal laws,” we can recall [at least one] instance in which that simply wasn’t the case.
What would you do if you found out your government was censoring the information you receive? Let us know in the comments below!