Apple quietly censoring Hong Kong web and won't admit to doing so, report claims

Apple Hong Kong store
Apple's Canton Road store in Hong Kong (Image credit: Apple)

A new report this week claims that Apple has expanded censorship tools use in mainland China to include Hong Kong.

According to a piece from The Intercept on Thursday, "Apple quietly expanded the use of Chinese company Tencent’s website blacklist to users in Hong Kong — and no one will answer questions about it."

Sam Biddle reports an instance in December where Safari users in Hong Kong tried to load GitLab and received " a strange warning" claiming the site was blocked for user safety."

"The access was temporarily cut off thanks to Apple’s use of a Chinese corporate website blacklist, which resulted in the innocuous site being flagged as a purveyor of misinformation," the report states, claiming that neither Apple nor Tencent, the Chinese firm it uses for safe browsing filters in the country, would say how or why this had happened.

Censorship in Hong Kong?

As the report notes, a warning screen from Tencent, which created WeChat and owns League of Legends as well as part of Apple's App Store rival Epic Games, "operates the safe browsing filter for Safari users in China on Apple’s behalf," claiming it has now extended this safe browsing filter into Hong Kong.

The Intercept notes that Apple "originally said the Tencent blocklist would be used only for Safari users inside mainland China" but quietly added a note to its privacy policy sometime after November 24, 2022, stating "that the Tencent blacklist would be used for devices in Hong Kong as well."

The report claims that by "silently expanding the scope of the Tencent list" Apple can "remain in the good graces of China" while receiving "plausible deniability about how or why such site blocks happen." The former is critical to the manufacturing of devices like Apple's best iPhone, the iPhone 14.

iMore has reached out to Apple for comment on the matter, but The Intercept notes that Apple declined to answer questions about the incident in response to the original story.

Citizen Lab researcher Jeffrey Knockel told the outlet that while "Tencent’s compliance with the Chinese national security agenda ought not to come as a surprise," Apple's should. Knockel further claimed that it was less important as to how or why GitLab may have been blocked by Safe Browsing, but rather that "Tencent’s blocking of GitLab for Safari users underscores that Apple’s subjection of Hong Kong users to screening via a China-based company," which he says "is problematic not only in principle but also in practice.”

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design. Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9