Apple caves to China again, limiting app usage crucial to protesters

by Jacob Fuller

Vicky Arias, FISM News


Earlier this month, the tech giant Apple Inc. limited access to a crucial app used by protesters opposing the Chinese government, just before mass public demonstrations broke out over President Xi Jinping’s zero-COVID policy.

AirDrop, an app that allows Apple users to share documents, photos, and other files wirelessly, was used by individuals protesting the Chinese government, in an effort to circumvent communist China’s strict internet surveillance and usage policies.

Protesters “airdropped” posters and information to each other, en masse, objecting to President Xi Jinping and Chinese governmental policies, until Apple began restricting usage of the app in China earlier this month.

An update to the app, rolled out exclusively in China, restricts the time allotted to receive files from “non-contacts” to 10 minutes, whereas, previously, there was no time limit.

App users continue to have the option of receiving files from “contacts only” or “everyone.” However, they may now only receive files from their “non-contacts” for a period of 10 minutes. After the time is up, a user must actively go into their settings every 10 minutes and restart the time limit for “non-contacts,” making receiving or disseminating secret protest information, including where to meet, quite cumbersome.

Apple explained the decision, saying it was made to restrict unwanted files received by app users. The company says it plans on rolling out the update globally in the coming months. However, this isn’t the only restriction Apple has placed on its devices in China.

The majority of Apple’s products are assembled in China, making the tech giant beholden to Chinese demands.

According to the Tech Transparency Project and the New York Times, Apple has removed thousands of apps from its Chinese App Store, either at the request of the Chinese government or in a possible bid to placate Chinese government officials.

Included in the apps removed by Apple are certain popular religious apps, an app that aided Hong Kong protesters in knowing where police were located, and various news outlet apps. Apple also removed the Taiwanese flag emoji from iPhone users in Hong Kong and Macau.

Additionally, certain creators of Apple TV+ programming were told “to avoid portraying China in a poor light,” by individuals in Apple supervisory roles, according to BuzzFeed.

In a study from the University of Toronto, published in August 2021, researchers found that “within mainland China, … Apple censors political content including broad references to Chinese leadership and China’s political system, names of dissidents and independent news organizations, and general terms relating to religions, democracy, and human rights.”

Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International Director in Asia, explained Apple’s complacency regarding censorship in China.

“Apple has become a cog in the censorship machine that presents a government-controlled version of the internet [to China],” Bequelin said, according to the New York Times. “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.”

Demonstrations are ongoing despite the Chinese government’s effort to curtail opposition. Protesters have remained steadfast in their commitment to object to stringent COVID lockdowns and Chinese policies.