Censorship, surveillance and profits: a hard bargain for Apple in China

Blockbuster report by The New York Times on Apple and Tim Cook gladly making endless concessions to please the Chinese government. Nothing in here is really new to most of us, but it’s startling to see it laid out in such detail, and sourced so well.

For instance, when it comes to Chinese people, privacy is apparently no longer a “fundamental human right“:

Inside, Apple was preparing to store the personal data of its Chinese customers on computer servers run by a state-owned Chinese firm.

Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, has said the data is safe. But at the data center in Guiyang, which Apple hoped would be completed by next month, and another in the Inner Mongolia region, Apple has largely ceded control to the Chinese government.

Chinese state employees physically manage the computers. Apple abandoned the encryption technology it used elsewhere after China would not allow it. And the digital keys that unlock information on those computers are stored in the data centers they’re meant to secure.

This means zero privacy for Chinese Apple users, as Apple has pretty much ceded all control over this data to the Chinese government – so much so Apple’s employees aren’t even in the building, and Apple no longer has the encryption keys either.

And on top of this, it turns out Apple is so scared of offending the Chinese government, the company proactively censors applications and other content in the Chinese version of the App Store, removing, censoring, and blocking content even before the Chinese government asks for it.

“Apple has become a cog in the censorship machine that presents a government-controlled version of the internet,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Asia director for Amnesty International, the human rights group. “If you look at the behavior of the Chinese government, you don’t see any resistance from Apple — no history of standing up for the principles that Apple claims to be so attached to.”

Apple even fired an App Store reviewer because the reviewer approved an application that while not breaking a single rule, did offend the Chinese government. That is how far Apple is willing to go to please its Chinese government friends.

Apple isn’t merely beholden to China – it’s deeply, deeply afraid of China. How many more concessions is Tim Cook willing to make, and how many more Chinese rings is he willing to kiss?


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