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Apple Complied With 100% of Chinese Government App Store Takedown Requests in 2020: Report

Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: April 27, 2022
Apple couldn't say no to the CCP in 2020 when the Chinese Government wanted an app banned, they removed it from the App Store.
The logo of an Apple store on April 11, 2022 in Wuhan, China. Apple complied with 100 percent of App Store takedown requests issued by the Chinese Communist Party in 2020, according to data published in its Transparency Report, anti-censorship organization GreatFire states. (Image: Getty Images)

The world’s largest company acquiesced to 100 percent of App Store takedown requests made by the Chinese Communist Party in 2020, according to a new report published by Great Fire, a self-described China-based anti-censorship organization. 

Great Fire’s Apple Censorship division released the report Taken Down’ A Look Into Apple’s Transparency Reports on April 21, where the organization was highly critical of Apple’s well-touted commitment to transparency.

In the 62-page report, Great Fire noted that Apple only began to publicly divulge quantity data on “Worldwide Government App Store Takedown Requests” as late as the second half of 2018 and onward, data which did not become available until a year later in July of 2019 as a result of corporate reporting schedules.

BIG TECH AND CHINESE GOVERNMENT CENSORSHIP

In the first report where the first half of 2018’s data was released, Apple showed that communist China was the world leader in App Store takedown requests with 56.

Second place was Russia with 10. 

Apple, the data showed, complied with 55 of the CCP’s demands. A total of 626 apps were requested to be squelched, and 517 were removed.

A footnote associated with the data, clipped from Apple’s official Transparency Report, claimed “the vast majority” of the Party’s App Store takedown requests “relate to illegal gambling or pornography.”

In the second half of 2019, Apple added three columns to the report for the purpose of logging the number of appeals to government takedown requests received and granted, including the number of apps reinstated. 

But the additional columns only contained one datapoint, a single appeal from India, which was successful. 

The report was critical of the addition because, “No indication on the timeline of such an appeals process is given, nor does Apple make clear the circumstances in which apps may be reinstated.” 

“It is possible, therefore, that an app be unavailable in one or more storefronts for months and even years before its eventual reinstatement; it is unclear if Apple makes any note of such appeals if the initial takedown and the success of an appeal occur sufficiently far apart as to fall under the timespan of different Transparency Reports,” it continues. 

Great Fire notes Apple includes an additional table of relevant data in its reports on “Platform Policy Violation Takedown Requests,” which the organization describes as “relating to government requests which alert the company to apps that allegedly break the App Store Guidelines, and should therefore be removed from all App Stores.”

In data reported in the second half of 2019, only the Chinese Government and Russia made this kind of request, 22 and 3 respectively.

All were granted, resulting in 94 Chinese apps being eliminated and 3 Russian apps being eliminated. 

Great Fire also notes that when apps are eliminated under this process, they are removed from all 175 App Stores worldwide, rather than merely the App Stores inside Apple’s walled garden in different regions. 

In a further segment of data analyzing all government takedown requests, Great Fire found that in 2020, the CCP was once again the world leader, making 62 takedown requests in the first half and 26 in the second half, resulting in the removal of a staggering 6,132 apps.

The report noted that China, Russia, and India “are the only countries which continually requested that Apple remove apps” across all reports since data was released starting in 2019, “appearing in every semiannual report compiled by Apple.”

Specific instances of apps being removed by Apple, yet not included in the figures provided in its Transparency Reports, were fairly egregious, stated the report.

In October of 2019 in the midst of Hong Kong’s unprecedented “Heaven Will Eliminate the CCP (天滅中共)” protests that brought at times more than a million citizens to the streets, Apple pulled the HKmap.live app from the App Store at the request of Beijing.

HKmap.live was utilized by protestors as a self-reporting tool for positions of police formations and crowd control measures, such as water cannons. 

Additionally, mainstream media outlet Quartz also had their app removed by Apple as a result of a request by Beijing during the protests.

In comments given to Daily Caller, Project Director for the Apple Censorship portion of Great Fire, Benjamin Ismail, labeled Apple as “another branch of the Chinese censorship apparatus.” 

Ismail further alleged that the reason the world’s largest company by market capitalization is successful in China is simply because of an “alliance with the Chinese authoritarian government.”