Apple is China's 'kill switch' for anti-government content, claims report

iPad Pro screen with App Store
(Image credit: iMore)

Apple has been accused of choosing profits over human rights and censoring apps in Hong Kong, China, and Russia to ensure that it still has access to those markets.

The two reports also suggest that Apple's market position has left it as the de facto kill switch for the Chinese government for any type of content that it deems to be problematic. The report specifically discusses apps but comes after Apple changed how AirDrop works in China — allegedly to slow the spreading of anti-government media.

The two reports, written by the Apple Censorship Project (via The Register), originate from free speech advocacy group GreatFire.

Kill switch

Apple has a long history of preventing some apps from being released in specific countries via its App Store, with VPN apps being a prime example. Apple says that it abides by local laws, but the Apple Censorship Project reports claim that Apple's 50% share of the smartphone market means that the Chinese government can use it to quash dissent in the country.

To that point, the report notes that the Hong Kong App Store has 2,370 fewer apps than are available elsewhere. That number grows when you look at China — 10,837 — while Russia's 2,754 missing apps seems relatively small in comparison.

"Apple's known about Beijing’s authoritarian preferences for decades," the report says, suggesting that the company is well aware of what it's doing. 

"Apple’s response is aligned to its global business strategies, with a top priority of appeasing the Chinese government to protect Apple’s supply chain, distribution channels, and revenue stream." 

The report says that Apple has failed to help people in Hong Kong freely access information, especially as the democracy movement took hold in recent years.

Apple has long removed apps from App Stores for various reasons, with the reports also pointing to the removal of LGBTQ+ apps in Russia.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.