Last week, Apple ignored the wishes of US lawmakers and rejected the HKmap Live app from its App Store for the second time in about a dozen days. After making the decision, the company was accused of being an “accomplice for Chinese censorship.” Today more US lawmakers have condemned Apple’s decision and expressed concern over the company’s censorship of this and other apps “at the behest of the Chinese government.”
In a letter sent to Apple CEO Tim Cook, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and senators Ted Cruz, Ron Wyden, Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, Mike Gallagher, and Tom Malinowski called out Apple’s censorship of apps and drew particular attention to Apple’s rejection of the HKmap Live app – an app that many users have credited with keeping residents safe and allowing people to avoid areas that the police have marked as “illegal assembly” zones.
The US lawmakers said they were disappointed with Apple’s decision, particularly given that the company has suggested that its values drive its curation decisions. They also cited Apple’s reported censorship of over 2,000 apps in the Chinese App Store which include virtual private network (VPN) apps (which help protect Chinese residents from state surveillance of their internet activity) and apps made by minorities who are often oppressed by the Chinese government (such as the Uyghurs and Tibetans).
The letter acknowledges that diplomacy and trade can be democratizing forces but warns that cooperation with a repressive government “can become complicity” and that “actions matter far more than words.”
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The letter comes as Apple is facing mounting pressure over its relationship with China. Earlier today, it was reported that Cook met with China’s regulators about “fulfilling corporate social responsibility.” Some believe that this “corporate social responsibility” is a reference to the HKmap Live controversy.
And last week, reports emerged that Apple’s Senior Vice President of internet software and services Eddy Cue and its head of international content development Morgan Wandell had warned Apple TV+ creators not to anger China when creating shows.
In yet another China-related controversy, Apple started to remove the flag of Taiwan on iOS devices that have the region set to China. China refuses to accept trade agreements with anyone who recognizes Taiwan as an independent nation so this is yet another decision which is seen by many as an example of Apple bowing down to China.