Apple Faces Censorship Dilemma in China

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Apple's relationship with China may not be as friendly as we were led to believe because the government shut down the iTunes Movies store and iBook Store only six months after they launched. The decision may be a sign of hostility towards foreign companies, or it may be censorship to block the state-banned movie Ten Years.

No movies for you: China shuts down Apple's iTunes movies and iBooks storesNo movies for you: China shuts down Apple's iTunes movies and iBooks stores

Apple's movies and ebook stores were shut down last week by the Chinese State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, according to the New York Times. The iTunes Music store, however, is still online and available in the country.

It's possible China's government reversed course and no longer wants Apple's online media stores operating in the country. Apple, along with other companies such as Microsoft and IBM, are seen as too established and entrenched in China by government officials, making them political targets of sorts.

Assuming the government saw the iTunes Music store and iBook Store as threats to in-country alternatives, it's easy to see the Chinese State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television as a way to shut them down.

Alternately, China could be using the agency as a tool for censorship. The award winning movie Ten Years, which shows a dystopian future Hong Kong, has been banned in China and Apple's movie and book stores were shut down just before it would've been released for online distribution.

Apple says it has a good working relationship with China, and a company spokesperson said they "hoped to make books and movies available again to our customers in China as soon as possible."

Regardless of how tight Apple may be with China, the fact that both media distribution stores were shut down so quickly underlies issues the company needs to be prepared for every day: China's government has no qualms about oppressing content it doesn't want its citizens seeing, and has some level of hostility towards foreign companies.

That doesn't make it easy to do business in the country, and puts Apple in a position where it's going to have to decide if it's willing to make sacrifices like tacitly supporting government censorship in order to sell products to its second largest market.

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Comments

Lee Dronick

  That doesn’t make it easy to do business in the country, and puts Apple in a position where it’s going to have to decide if it’s willing to make sacrifices like tacitly supporting government censorship in order to sell products to its second largest market.

They could make a lot of money by not doing business there. Is there a back door to iPhones sold in China?

wab95

Jeff:

Although at the end of the day, any for-profit venture has to make a profit, given Apple’s global footprint, as I’m sure you’re aware, Apple’s engagement in foreign markets is more than about money and selling products. This is especially true of China, which remains one of the most stubbornly closed, secretive, controlling when not overtly suppressive, governments on the face of the planet; and as recent events in the South China Sea have underscored, they are not above flouting international convention and law, at gunpoint, when it serves their purpose.

Indeed, Silicon Valley as an industry would do well to coordinate their efforts to use their economic might and product appeal to engage not only the government, but more importantly the people, and to leverage expansion in the way of civil liberties, human rights, improved worker standards (we always hear about Apple’s Foxconn workers, but have you visited China and seen the conditions of the working poor or their capacity to advocate for themselves?) as they can, and by degrees, continue to compel the country to open itself to international influence and common standards of engagement and fair play.

The government will continue their strategy of divide and rule, pitting local concern against international companies, and international companies against each other. Only by coordinated effort can the tech giants move can the government to compromise and see that it is in their best interests to have an open market and, ultimately, a more open society.

And yes, it will be good to be able to sell products in a rapidly expanding market.

Jamie

Yes, but EVERYONE faces censorship in China. Blinded by their wealth, people tend to forget that China is not a free country.

Lee Dronick

Let us not forget that at least for now a lot of components and end products come out of China. If they cut off exports then Apple and a lot of others would be in trouble; so would China as they would lose a lot of income. It is a very complex situation.

iJack

It’s just going to get worse for everybody. According to Foreign Policy (magazine), President Xi Jinping is flexing his muscles everywhere. Just this this week he announced that he is Commander-in-Chief of the People’s Liberation, and that a major reorganization of the PLA from a group of semi-autonomous regional armies, into a proper top-down national army, with himself as top dawg.

It seems pretty clear, that with Putin’s escapades in Ukraine and Syria, and China’s plans to take over the South China Sea with this island-building nonsense, the Cold War is back. I predict that within a year’s time, we’ll be talking about something entirely different vis-à-vis Apple’s presence in China.

iJack

OOPS!
“..Commander-in-Chief of the People’s Liberation..” should have been People’s Liberation ARMY.”

aardman

“People’s Liberation Army” is actually more appropriate than one would think at first blush.  Just like Napoleon’s “Army of Italy” was an army who’s task was not to defend Italy but to conquer it, China’s People’s Liberation Army isn’t actually there to uphold the Chinese people’s liberty but to crush it and keep it well crushed. 

aardman

And Xi Jinping is a megalomaniac of the first order.  As totalitarian dictators go, he is of that ilk who hold the kind of ruthless geopolitical ambitions that start world wars.  Kaiser Wilhelm II, that Adolf fellow, Napoleon, etc.

iJack

@ aardman ~ That’s quite true, but that wouldn’t prohibit them doing a little crushing of the Taiwanese or Japanese or even South Koreans while they’re in the neighborhood.

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