Apple may be running afoul of China's penchant for censorship, as the company recently deactivated its new Apple News app inside the borders. Technically, Apple News hasn't launched inside China in the first place, but users who downloaded the app outside the country have been reporting that it doesn't work once they cross the Great Firewall of China.
It's a tricky situation for every Western tech company. When censorship was demanded by the totalitarian government of China, Yahoo! and Microsoft's Bing both chose to comply with local laws and censor content on their services. Google, on the other hand, shut down its Chinese search engine and redirected customers to the Hong Kong version which isn't subject to the same rules.
The New York Times reported over the weekend that Apple has chosen a similar path—for now—choosing to deactivate the app rather than censor. As Apple hasn't commented on the topic yet, it remains to be seen if Apple will introduce censored content for Apple News in the future.
But, it gets a little trickier, still. It was a post on Reddit that alerted The Times to this development. Reddit member Larry Salibra posted that Apple's deactivation not only blocks new content from being accessed inside the Great Firewall, it also effectively blocks content downloaded to his device outside of China's controls.
From that post, "They’re censoring news content that I downloaded and stored on my device purchased in the USA, before I even enter China just because my phone happens to connect to a Chinese signal floating over the border.”
A lot of folks understandably get tense when tech companies touch an app or content already downloaded to their devices, and it frankly makes Apple's interim approach to Apple News in China far less than perfect.
The question is what can Apple do? Submit to censorship and Apple is kowtowing to a repressive regime bent on denying information to its people. If Apple doesn't, on the other hand, the company locks itself out of the world's largest market.
What would you do?
There's another element here, too. China is using the Great Firewall as a form of commercial protectionism. By forcing Western companies to choose sides on this issue, the country fosters the growth and development of home grown competitors. Not only does that benefit China economically, it ensures that more big players in the Chinese market are part and parcel of the censorship system.
It's a(n un)virtuous circle, and it's devilishly clever.