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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  1. icon
    DannyB (profile), 5 Jan 2017 @ 10:10am

    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

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