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Apple helping China spy on, censor Chinese citizens: Report

Apple store. (Pixabay/Released)
May 18, 2021

Apple has assisted with the Chinese government’s censorship and surveillance of China’s citizens, repeatedly caving to escalating demands made by the communist nation’s leadership, according to internal documents reviewed by the New York Times this week.

The tech giant’s most recent data center in Guiyang, China, will house users’ information on state-owned servers, the Times reported, adding that Apple reportedly ditched its encryption technology following objections from the Chinese government. Instead, state employees will manage the servers, as well as the security tools used to protect private information.

Apple’s submission to the Chinese government’s demands means it is basically impossible for the company to prevent authorities from viewing the emails, photos, documents, contacts and locations of millions of Chinese citizens, security experts and Apple engineers told the news outlet.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has previously praised the company’s dedication to civil liberties and privacy, calling the latter a “fundamental human right.” Nicholas Bequelin, the Asia director of the human rights group Amnesty International, said Apple’s submission to the Chinese government’s demands abandons those commitments.

“Apple has become a cog in the censorship machine that presents a government-controlled version of the internet,” he said. “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.”

Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, China’s Communist government has become more assertive when dealing with foreign companies. Since 2017, 55,000 apps have been removed from Apple’s App Store in China, the Times reported, including games, news publications, dating services and messaging platforms.

A spokesman from Apple told the news outlet that the tech company did “everything it could” to keep users’ private data secure, adding that Apple has “never compromised the security of [their] users or their data in China.”

Last year, China also threatened to “restrict or investigate” several major U.S. companies, including Apple, in retaliation against U.S. action to block shipments of semiconductors to the Chinese company Huawei.

The Chinese state media outlet Global Times reported that China is preparing to place U.S. companies on an “unreliable entity” list after former President Donald Trump’s administration blocked the shipment of computer chips to Huawei.

“China will take forceful countermeasures to protect its own legitimate rights,” a Chinese government source told the Global Times, if the U.S. continues with its plan to block chip suppliers, including Taiwan-based TSMC, from selling chips to Huawei.

Companies placed on the “unreliable entities” list could be restricted from exporting their goods to China and investigated by Chinese authorities.