Single Choke Point Problems: Apple Removes NY Times App From Chinese App Store After Chinese Gov't Complains

from the censorship-made-easy dept

One of the wonders of the internet was that it was supposed to be a distributed computer system, meaning that it would be harder to take down and harder to censor. But, over time, things keep getting more and more centralized. And that’s especially true in the mobile ecosystem, and doubly so for the Apple iOS mobile ecosystem (at least on Android it’s much easier to sideload apps). The latest demonstration of this is that Apple agreed to remove apps from the NY Times from its iOS app store in China, complying with demands from the Chinese government:

Apple removed both the English-language and Chinese-language apps from the app store in China on Dec. 23. Apps from other international publications, including The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal, were still available in the app store.

?We have been informed that the app is in violation of local regulations,? Fred Sainz, an Apple spokesman, said of the Times apps. ?As a result, the app must be taken down off the China App Store. When this situation changes, the App Store will once again offer the New York Times app for download in China.?

The article about this — in the NY Times, naturally — says that the paper has asked Apple to reconsider. No one is clear on exactly why this is happening, but the (reasonable) assumption is that it has to do with the new regulations China put in place over the summer that demand all internet news providers must be approved by the Chinese government — which the Chinese are spinning as part of its effort to crack down on “fake news.”

Of course, this really just highlights two separate, but equally worrisome trends: (1) the increasing centralization of connected ecosystems, that creates a single chokepoint to target with censorship demands; and (2) the ability to use hyped up claims about “fake news” to censor legitimate and critical investigative reporting. Neither of these are good to see, and both need to be counteracted.

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Companies: apple, ny times

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Comments on “Single Choke Point Problems: Apple Removes NY Times App From Chinese App Store After Chinese Gov't Complains”

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18 Comments
Anon E. Mous (profile) says:

The Chinese goverment gets what it wants, I am sure they told Apple if you want to sell your wares here, then you play by our rules, removing the NYT app is part of Apple being allowed to do business in China.

The Chinese goverment want to control where and how it’s people get the news , the sanitized version and any outside news sources not controlled by China are not on that list.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s a trade-off, privacy vs. freedom. Apple dictates what you can do with your phone, but is pretty good at protecting your privacy. Android gives you freedom, but gives every app the freedom to collect your personal information.

The other alternatives, Blackberry and Windows Phone, are dead. (The Blackberry name now licenced to a Chinese company for Android phones, and Windows Phones – at least here in Canada – long disappeared from stores and cellular providers.)

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Android gives you freedom, but gives every app the freedom to collect your personal information.

An Android app can only do what it has permissions to do. In order to have a certain permission, for example, to look at your contacts (eg, phone / address book), the app must:
1. expressly declare the permission it wants (otherwise the OS rejects attempts to use this part of the API)
2. declare whether it wants the permission granted at install time or upon first use of that feature
3. The user must expressly grant permission (“yes, I want to give application SpamMyFriends access to my contacts list”).

The user is asked to grant that permission either when the app is installed, or the first time the app attempts to use that permission.

So yes, on Android, an app can compromise your privacy, if you want to give it permission to.

On the newest releases of Android you can revoke these permissions later. For example, a flashlight app that uses the camera’s flash LED as a light. No reasonable flashlight app should need:
* access to my contacts list
* ability to record sounds
* ability to prevent phone from sleeping
* access to your files, music, photos, etc.
* internet access

My_Name_Here says:

I guess you just don’t get it.

China wants control over what is able to be seen in their country, and they will do what is needed. Already, they have structured their internet connections to the world in such a way that they can easily control the content through firewalls and such. China could probably pull the plug on all external links and still operate an internet of their own, they are that well structured. Russia is jealous!

Apps are the next frontier. Information can flow into an app that isn’t as easily packet scanned and detected. Without another way to control those apps, the best way for China to handle it is to make the app unavailable in China. Since they can’t control the content, they control the delivery.

It really isn’t a big deal, it’s the same reason why CNN randomly goes off the air in China when something important happens.

Takumi (profile) says:

How national laws should relate to the internet is such a tricky subject, honestly. You want to say (or rather, governments do) that everything done online should be subject to the offline laws of a citizen’s nation, but when it comes to things like geoblocking, region-specific censorship, GEMA obscuring every other youtube video in Germany with the excuse of “copyright!”, threats to hold liable domain registrars and ISPs because they don’t perform enough censorship, weird claims that a US embargo with Iran means you can’t let them have source code of free software (???), just any time a government wants to take the internet and strangle it to prevent the ungodly horror of information flowing through it they don’t particularly like because they don’t know what else to do it’s just like, we’re living in the future now, I thought we were beyond this primitive stage of humanity. There has to be a better way.

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