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Apple Kicks Out Another Anti-Censorship App From Their Chinese Store

BY Rebecca Chao | Friday, October 25 2013

Just when it seemed like a small opening for controversial apps had appeared in the Chinese Apple App store, it quickly closed again.

Yesterday, GreatFire.org's Free Weibo, a tool that allows you to search and find censored tweets on China’s popular microblogging platform, Sina Weibo, was finally made available in the Apple apps store in China after being previously blocked. When I asked Charlie Smith, who along with Martin Johnson created Great Fire, a website that monitor's censorship in China, "why the sudden reversal?", the answer was clear: it was an oversight.

“Guess what, we are blocked again,” Smith wrote in an e-mail to TechPresident today. He explained that Great Fire had recently updated the app, which “threw the Apple censors off for a short period of time.” But only a day later, the app was blocked again.

“I guess given the volume of apps and updates, they are unable to keep track of every censored app as soon as updates happen," Smith said.

The app is only blocked in the Chinese Apple store but it can be downloaded everywhere else. Furthermore, says Smith, those who were able to download Free Weibo before it was blocked are still able to use the app, problem-free. Apart from the search function, Free Weibo also offers a useful chart of censored words and incorporates elements of Hong Kong University's WeiboScope, another device that tracks censored posts.

Apple has censored a number of applications before, most recently a popular censorship circumvention tool called OpenDoor, usually pulling them quietly without much warning. With Open Door, the developers learned about the censorship only after users brought it to their attention. They noticed on July 11 that the numbers of Chinese users went from a few thousand to zero overnight.

On Free Weibo’s website, their motto is stamped in a corner, “We ignore relevant laws, legislation and policy." But Apple has made it clear that it requires developers to create apps that “comply with all legal requirements in any location where they are made available to users," apparently however draconian they might be.

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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