China is a huge market, and being a tightly controlled state the amount of pressure it can bring to bear upon global enterprises is huge. This is part of why even behemoths like Apple, one of the most valuable companies to have ever existed, is making sure not to step on China’s toes.
The latest development in this direction came recently, with the Cupertino giant warning Apple Tv+ show makers to refrain from creating things that could potentially piss China off.
Them move comes days after Apple removed HKMap.live, an app that helped protesters track police movements across Hong Kong, from the app store. The move was hailed by the People’s Daily, China’s state run newspaper, and it was one of the most read stories in the business section.
Chinese netizens hail Apple’s removal of app that aids HK rioters.
Along with HKmap.live, Apple also removed the Quartz app (due perhaps to their coverage of the protests in the city) and the Taiwan flag emoji for Hong Kong based iOS users. All in all, the company has removed a total of 517 apps from the app store at the Chinese government’s request.
Along with porn and gambling, many were VPN and news applications. The company has also provided whatever data the Chinese government needed, almost all the time without even a semblance of resistance. Even the NYTimes app is not available in the country!
Apparently, Apple’s kowtowing to China has been taking place long before today. According to BuzzFeed News, Eddy Cue, Apple’s SVP of internet software and services, and Morgan Wandell, its head of international content development released instructions as early as 2018, asking creators of original Apple TV+ programs to steer clear of controversies around China, and to ensure that they did not portray the communist nation in a bad light.
Apple has found itself at loggerheads with China once before In 2016, Apple’s iBooks Store and iTunes Movies were shut down by the Chinese government, merely six months after they debuted in the country due to content-related disagreement. Apple clearly does not want a repeat of that incident, considering the tens of billions of dollars it earns from China every year and the manufacturing operations it has set up in the country, and is even ready conform to the arbitrary rules put forward by the Chinese government to remain in its good graces.
Word on the street is that incidents like this are all too common. As per a US Technology executive:
We just get a phone call from Apple and they say ‘We just got a call from the Chinese government’ and five minutes later our app is off the App Store. It’s not a line of communication that would be open o any discussion.
They have so much market power in general and they wield that pretty indiscriminately.
Meanwhile, observers and analysts along with the general public are slowly coming to the same conclusion: Apple won’t stand up to the Chinese government and risk its revenue, even at the cost of doing things that it will outright refuse to do in Europe and United States.
Apple’s state reminds me of Yahoo!’s capitulation to China’s government over a decade ago, leading to the incarceration of a young Chinese reporter Shi Tao. It is sad to see that despite all the progress we are supposed to have made, one of the most powerful companies in the world continues to bend over to a government’s whims, even at the cost of not doing what it clearly knows is the right things.