Bowing to China’s demands, Apple has removed apps by the New York Times from its app store there.
It’s another reminder of the complicated issues Silicon Valley tech companies face in that country — the world’s most populous nation, which most global companies can’t afford to ignore — and the continued strengthening of what has become known as the Great Firewall of China.
“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,” Fred Sainz, an Apple spokesman, told the New York Times. “When this situation changes, the App Store will once again offer the New York Times app for download in China.”
China began blocking the New York Times online in 2012, when the newspaper reported about the hidden family wealth of former Prime Minister Wen Jaibao. The country has also blocked other the websites of other publications, such as Bloomberg News, Reuters and others. Apple removed both the English- and Chinese-language versions of the New York Times apps; the newspaper notes that other international publications’ apps are still available in Apple’s App Store in China.
Not surprisingly, Apple is facing criticism for removing the New York Times apps, including from the newspaper itself, which says it’s asking the company to reconsider. In addition, some experts, including one quoted by the New York Times, say it’s worrisome that Apple has not disclosed which laws China says it’s violating. That makes it harder to figure out what to appeal.
Google and Yahoo have grappled with Chinese censorship for years. Google, the world’s largest search engine, has not operated in mainland China since 2010, although there are times when breaches occur and it becomes accessible there. Yahoo famously turned over email information of a couple of journalists who were jailed by the Chinese government.
Twitter and Facebook are officially banned in China, although Chinese citizens access those social networks using virtual private networks. The head of Twitter’s China operation just left the company, although Twitter says it will keep its Hong Kong office open. Facebook reportedly has built censorship software to use in that country, although the company says it hasn’t decided on its “approach to China.”
Meanwhile, Netflix, the Silicon Valley-based entertainment provider that has expanded to many countries around the world, seems to have given up on China for the moment. CEO Reed Hastings said in October that “it doesn’t look good” for the company’s prospects in that nation.
Apple itself has had its movie-service dreams dashed there, when China shut down its iTunes Movies and iBooks services in April. Soon after that happened, famed activist investor Carl Icahn dumped all his shares in Apple, saying he was worried about its the company’s future in China — and causing the company’s shares to sink.
Last year, Icahn referred to China’s “attitude” as a problem for Apple — besides censorship, other issues of concern include increasingly tight regulations and rising competition from Chinese companies. That “attitude” is a longtime problem for Silicon Valley and other U.S. companies and isn’t likely to go away anytime soon, and could be exacerbated by President-elect Donald Trump’s already contentious relationship with China.
Photo: The Apple logo hangs on the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue on August 5, 2015 in New York City. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)