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Apple Stoops to “Whole New Level” of Self-Censorship in China

BY Jessica McKenzie | Friday, October 4 2013

Apple silently removed OpenDoor, an app that helped users evade China's Great Firewall, without any explanation and, the app developer says, without any just reason. Chinese netizens are understandably angry and many are criticizing Apple for their willingness to cooperate with Chinese authorities.

The lead developer of OpenDoor, who remains anonymous, told Radio Netherlands that on July 11, downloads of their app in China dropped from approximately 2,000 a day to zero. Apple did not respond to repeated requests for information until August 28, when they informed OpenDoor their app “includes content that is illegal in China.”

A Chinese Internet expert, who also remained anonymous to protect the future of his own iOS app, which he recently submitted to the Apple app store, told Radio Netherlands that he was “truly outraged” by that assertion.

OpenDoor is a browser app that sends traffic through its own servers to avoid using the user's ISP, which may have blocks on content. It contains no more illegal material than Safari or Google Chrome, as OpenDoor pointed out in an email to Apple: “It is unclear to us how a simple browser app could include illegal contents, since it's the user’s own choosing of what websites to view. Using the same definition, wouldn't all browser apps, including Apple's own Safari and Google's Chrome, include illegal contents?

The Internet expert explained that Apple's decision “meant Apple was starting to comply with orders without any legal basis, not even the pretense of legal basis.”

Some online commentators chalk it up to Apple's desire for a piece of the Chinese market. The BBC reports that one user wrote, "Apple is determined to have a share of the huge cake which is the Chinese internet market. Without strict self-censorship, it cannot enter the Chinese market."

Apple has removed other apps from its store in China because of content “illegal in China,” including a news app for the New Tang Dynasty, a U.S.-based television broadcaster founded by the banned spiritual group, Falun Gong, and an app for reading banned books about Tibet.

The Internet expert who spoke with Radio Netherlands pointed out that those apps were notified when they were removed from the store, and that there is “legal precedent,” however problematic, in which Falun Gong and Tibet-related material is prohibited.

The silent way Apple removed OpenDoor has the Internet expert convinced that they took “down content because of a phone call from the officials.”

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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