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Activists hunger strike at Apple HQ over helping China censor its people

Apple CEO Tim Cook on August 25, 2017 at the Capital Factory in downtown Austin, Texas. (Austin Community College/Released)
December 07, 2022

Two activists are days into a hunger strike in front of Apple headquarters, which they hope will pressure the tech giant into several moves against the Chinese government, including re-enabling an iPhone feature that protesters have used to dodge Chinese censorship. The feature was restricted in China weeks before the country faced its largest wave of protests in decades.

The hunger strike comes as Apple faces mounting criticism for caving to Chinese government demands and enabling oppression and censorship in that country. That scrutiny intensified amid a rare flare-up of protests last month over China’s strict “zero COVID” policy, which have largely cooled off as the country eases its rules.

The strikers have a sign demanding Apple CEO Tim Cook “stop kissing Xi’s ass,” referring to Chinese President Xi Jinping. 

One of the strikers’ demands is that Apple restore “full function” to its AirDrop feature. The feature allows nearby Apple devices to quickly send each other files and images, and has been used by protesters in China and Hong Kong to discreetly spread political messages.

AirDrop originally allowed files to be sent to strangers. But in early November, Apple updated Chinese iPhones so that users have to press a button every 10 minutes if they want files from strangers. That’s been viewed as a potential boon for Chinese censorship, but Apple said it plans to roll that update out worldwide to limit unwanted file sharing, Bloomberg reported.

One of the strikers, a Chinese national identified only as VK, told Axios that “privacy and freedom of speech is the foundation of a democratic society,” adding that “the world, including American consumers, are not happy that Apple has bowed down to the [Chinese Communist Party].”

The hunger strikers will only drink water while eating no food for several days or as long as their health allows, Axios reported. A Twitter user who appeared to be one of the strikers indicated the strike was ongoing Wednesday and posted a photo of their tent. American Military News could not immediately confirm the photo.

One of their signs lists four demands of Apple: end “labor exploitation” in its China-based iPhone manufacturing, stop “censoring apps” on the Chinese App Store, condemn “mass incarceration” of Uyghur Muslims and restore full function to the AirDrop feature.