I have written several articles on postings related to Big Tech, Social Media and Corporations. A list of links have been provided at bottom of this article for your convenience. This article will, however address different aspects on these Industries.
As I write this article Apple has been toppled by Saudi Aramco a state backed oil company. While this is interesting, it is not the reason why I am writing this article. It simple made for a good headline title. It has recently come to light how much Apple has censored its products and contents in favor of certain entities.
Censorship by Apple refers to Apple Inc.‘s removal, omission, or disruption of the spread of content or information from its services or subsidiaries, such as the iTunes Store and the App Store (iOS), in order to comply with Apple’s company policies, legal demands, or various government censorship laws.
The iBooks description for Moby-Dick censored sperm whale as of April 2010.
According to The Daily Telegraph, four erotic books, including Blonde and Wet, the Complete Story, were allegedly removed from the top 10 chart on July 26, 2010.
Northwest Press has had repeated conflicts with Apple’s content limitations on sales through the iBooks store. In 2011, an adaptation by Tom Bouden of Oscar Wilde‘s play The Importance of Being Earnest was only approved after the addition of black bars to cover partial male nudity. The technology company initially permitted the individual issues of Jon Macy‘s Fearful Hunter, but rejected the collected edition, then removed the issues. The satirical Al-Qaeda’s Super Secret Weapon was rejected outright. In 2016, Northwest published a self-censored version of Hard to Swallow by Justin Hall and Dave Davenport – covering the “objectionable” parts with images of apples – when the original version was rejected due to sexual content.
There is a policy of censoring profanity in song titles on iTunes. This has resulted in a Scunthorpe glitch, by which inoffensive titles are censored due to a coincidental string of letters.
If the song has an explicit label, it will be marked “explicit” next to the song title. If a song is marked “explicit” it is unavailable for purchase if “restrict explicit content” is checked under the parental controls preference. Often there will be a “clean” mark next to the title of some songs, meaning the lyrics have been censored, and is available to purchase on all accounts. Generally, if a song is marked “clean” there is an explicit version available as well.
On August 6, 2018, Apple removed all but one of the podcasts created by InfoWars, a website owned by Alex Jones, a right-wing American conspiracy theorist radio-show host and content creator. Apple cited hate speech as the reason for the removal of the content. Apple’s decision to remove this content sparked other major technology companies, including Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, and Google, into removing InfoWars content.
Further information: App Store (iOS), iOS app approvals, and iOS jailbreaking
Newspaper and magazine content
In May 2009, Apple rejected the first version of “Newspapers”, an iPhone app that let users read content from 50+ newspapers around the world, including The New York Times, France‘s Le Monde, and the United Kingdom tabloid The Sun. The app was rejected because the topless “Page 3” girls daily features were described as “obscene”. A second version of the application was submitted, removing access to The Sun, and adding a price tag of £0.59. The app was made available in the summer, after the release of the iPhone 3.0 software. Another application, of similar nature to ‘Newspapers’, called ‘Eucalyptus’ allowed users to download e-books to their iPhone, though was rejected by Apple because one of the e-books that could have been downloaded was the Kama Sutra. The ban has since been lifted.
We do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone … Folks who want porn can buy an Android phone.
We can’t adapt European magazines to the standards of Utah.
— Mathias Müller von Blumencron (editor of Der Spiegel, warning that the news magazine would not alter its content for the App Store)
The App Store has Playboy and Sports Illustrated adult-rated apps that have yet to be removed, while some apps by others were removed citing adult content which has resulted in accusations of hypocrisy. Despite this, adult sites continue to market for iPhone and iPad users. In November 2009, the application of Stern (a mainstream German weekly magazine with a print circulation of about 900,000) was deleted for several weeks without warning. In January 2010, Europe’s largest newspaper, German tabloid Bild, removed content from the iPhone version of its print edition at the request of Apple, and later it had to modify one of its applications – like in the Stern case because of nudity. The Association of German Magazine Publishers (VDZ) warned that with such interventions Apple might be moving towards censorship.
November 26, 2010, an informational magazine about Google’s OS from the Danish publisher Mediaprovider was not allowed in the app store.
The Guardian described rejection of explicit content by Apple as analogous to that of the distributor WH Smith, a main distributor which for many years imposed content restrictions on British publishers. Workers at the fashion magazine Dazed & Confused have nicknamed their iPad edition the “Iran edition”.
Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoons
In December 2009, Apple banned a cartoon app called NewsToons by cartoonist Mark Fiore, on the grounds that it “ridiculed public figures”. In April 2010, Fiore won the Pulitzer Prize for his political satire cartoons, making history as the very first internet-only cartoonist to win the prestigious journalistic prize. Following public outcry after the story broke in the wake of the award, Apple asked Fiore to resubmit his app, and it was subsequently accepted. Fiore said, “Sure, mine might get approved, but what about someone who hasn’t won a Pulitzer and who is maybe making a better political app than mine? Do you need some media frenzy to get an app approved that has political material?”
In April 2009, a game called Baby Shaker was approved for the App Store then later removed due to complaints. The game allowed the user to shake their phone until an image of a cartoon baby on the screen died.
Nine Inch Nails
In May 2009, Trent Reznor of the rock band Nine Inch Nails announced, via his Twitter account, that Apple had rejected an update to the Nine Inch Nails application due to “objectionable content”. The developer posted a message on the Nine Inch Nails discussion boards explaining the situation further:
v1.0 is live. v1.0.3 got rejected due to content yet the app has no content in it. this was mainly a stability release to fix the bug that crashes the app for international users. the bug was fixed 24 hours after 1.0 went live and we have been waiting for apple to approve it ever since. meanwhile the app continues to get a growing number of 1 star ratings from international users understandably frustrated by the bug. but looks like our hands are tied.
Apple later permitted the update.
In December 2009, Ted Lando’s eBook app “Take Control of iPhone OS 3” was rejected by Apple. The app was not permitted back into the app store until all references to jailbreaking were removed.
In 2011, Apple banned a game called Phone Story that explored the ethical challenges of smartphone manufacturing, including conflict minerals, environmental waste, and troubled labor practices. The game was eventually published on the web by its creator Molleindustria.
Drone strike app
In August 2012, Josh Begley created an iPhone app that sent out a push notification whenever a U.S. military UAV struck a target. The app was rejected because of Apple finding the content “objectionable and crude”.
On March 11, 2013, HiddenApps was approved and appeared in the App Store. This App provided access to developer diagnostic menus, allowed for stock Apps to be hidden and enabled an opt-out feature for iAds, Apple’s developer driven advertisement system.
In July 2013, a tech education startup called Treehouse claimed that Apple had refused to let them release an iOS app that contained lessons about Android.
The video game Papers, Please, centered around the operation of a border checkpoint, was brought to iPad in December 2014, but developer Lucas Pope was forced to remove some pixelated nudity from the game’s full-body scanner to be allowed to release the game for Apple devices. After a few days, Pope was permitted to upload a full version of the game to the App Store including pixelated nudity in an apparent reversal by Apple. However, it is still rated 17+ on the App Store.
France Musique app removal
On May 4, 2015, Apple removed the France Musique application from its App store due to the airing of “inappropriate content” in a podcast. The application displayed a painting by Édouard Manet, Olympia, depicting mild nudity. The podcast application was submitted to the App Store again, with a 17+ rating.
Chaos Computer Club videos about security vulnerabilities
In October 2015, Apple rejected a custom streaming application for Apple TV that was created by some members of the Frankfurt branch of Chaos Computer Club, Europe’s largest hacker association. The application was meant to show recordings of talks from Chaos Computer Club’s conferences. According to a blog post that was written about the incident, Apple’s reason was because “some of the videos show how to hack Apple devices”. The recordings are publicly available and are hosted on YouTube as well. Using the YouTube app still allows playback of the content on Apple devices.
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
Apple banned the video game The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth from appearing in the iOS App Store due to its cartoon depictions of violence towards children. The game was subsequently accepted in the next year, with a 17+ rating.
Telegram and Telegram X
In February 2018, Apple removed Telegram and Telegram X, encrypted messaging applications made by Telegram Messenger LLP, from the App Store due to content deemed inappropriate. Apple specifically cited instances of child pornography that was made available to users, and subsequently banned the apps until the situation could be dealt with.
Apple removed Infowars app from the App Store in September 2018 citing content that violated their policy against indecent material. Apple’s ban simply prevents users from downloading the app, but does not restrict access to those with the app installed.
In November 2018, Apple removed the Tumblr app from the App Store due to Tumblr’s failure to filter child pornography. Tumblr uses a database of known child pornography to automatically detect and remove child pornography from their website, however they found evidence of images that were not in the database present on Tumblr. In response to the ban, Tumblr removed the instances of child pornography and has since moved to ban all pornographic material on their platform as of December 17, 2018.
In December 2018, Apple removed the strategy game Afghanistan ’11 due to the fact that it featured real-life combatants. Slitherine, the developers of the game, countered that the main objectives focused on supporting Afghan civilians rather than defeating the Taliban. This followed a temporary ban of the game Ultimate General: Gettysburg for featuring the Confederate flag in historical context.
In October 2019, Apple removed the HKmap.live app from its App Store. HKMap is used to track the locations of protests and police in Hong Kong. Apple stated that the app “allowed users to evade law enforcement”.
“Apple takes 30% of this purchase.” in Facebook events
In 2020, Apple forced Facebook to remove a message informing users that Apple took a 30% cut of all fees for paid online events. Apple claimed that the notification was against the App Store policy on “irrelevant” information, a position Facebook disagreed with.
In 2021, Apple and Google removed the Navalny app from the App Store and Google Play Store respectively. The app was pulled the day of Russia’s parliamentary elections which cause the app’s creator, Alex Navalny, and his supporters to claim that the two companies are taking part in political suppression. Apple sent a letter to Navalny’s affiliates stating that the app had content that is illegal in Russia.
Censorship by country
The following are instances of censorship and information control imposed by Apple in App Stores other than the United States App Store. Many were imposed due to pressure from foreign governments and were put into effect to comply with laws. The restrictions, however, are applied even after the user moves to another country, unless they change the region of their Apple ID, which requires cancelling existing subscriptions and setting up a new payment method.
As early as 2015, Apple shut off its News app inside China.
In 2017, Apple restricted the emoji of the flag of the Republic of China on devices used in mainland China. The same year, Apple removed the Voice of America app in China at the behest of the Cyberspace Administration of China.
Apple removes VPNs from the Chinese App Store in order to comply with the Chinese government and stay in the market. The CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, stated that if they censor now, the rules for censorship in China may relax.
In 2018, Apple’s restrictions on sending the word “Taiwan” or sending an emoji representing the flag of Taiwan on iDevices using a Chinese country code or language settings caused the devices to crash.
In 2018, Apple removed apps from the Chinese App Store that allowed users to access content forbidden by the Chinese government. Many of these apps gave users access to virtual private networks that could allow them to circumvent the Great Firewall of China. Apple did not cite any Chinese laws, but claimed that the apps broke the laws of their local governments. Among the apps removed was VyprVPN, an app by Golden Frog, a company which had filed an amicus brief supporting Apple during the FBI–Apple encryption dispute. Apple is the first foreign global technology company to concede to the Chinese government’s demands.
Artists who reference the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre have had some or all of their music removed from iTunes, including Jacky Cheung Hok-yau and Tat Ming Pair.
In 2021, Apple removed a Quran app and a Bible app from the China App Store. Apple also removed a popular daily prayer app for Muslims from China. Jehovah’s Witnesses‘ app was removed in May 2020.
In October 2022, following the Beijing Sitong Bridge protest, Apple release an update which started to limit AirDrop function on iPhone and iPad purchased in China, resulting the receiving from “Everyone” option changed to “Everyone for 10 minutes”.
In November 2022, Apple removed the TaiwanPlus app from the China App Store.
In February 2017, Apple restricted payment services in Iranian apps to comply with U.S. sanctions that forbade Iranian currency from entering the United States. The Iranian apps responded by implementing an Iranian electronic payment service.
In August 2017, Apple removed many Iranian apps from the App Store citing U.S. sanctions placed on Iran. While Apple has neither stores in Iran nor specific versions of the App Store for the country, Iranian citizens are able to get access to Apple products and content from external sources. Apple removed many apps developed specifically for Iranians, including a ride-sharing service called Snapp, and a food delivery service called DelionFoods.
In April 2018, Apple blocked the Telegram app in Iran in response to concerns that access to the encrypted messaging service presented a threat to Iranian national security.
In May 2018, Apple played a role in the censorship of Telegram, an encrypted messaging app used globally. Interested in surveying the encrypted messages, the Russian government demanded Telegram provide decryption keys to their Federal Security Service. When Telegram refused, the Russian Government threatened Apple with legal repercussions if they did not block Telegram from the Russian App Store and eliminate the push notification feature. The founder of Telegram, Pavel Durov, has publicly claimed Apple has restricted Telegram users across the world from updating their app; an action that could cause problems for Telegram’s ability to meet regulations.
Apple, accused of supporting China’s censorship, is now facing new criticism
Protesters say Apple has kept tools that help circumvent censorship in China off its App store inside the country. Now it has to contend with pressure from Chinese citizens who aren’t happy about it.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
When a man hung banners on a Beijing overpass in October to protest the government, an army of censors wiped it from the Chinese internet. Some people got around that by using Apple’s AirDrop, which allows iPhones to communicate directly with other iPhones. It’s one of the few remaining ways to share information without censorship in China, or it was. NPR’s John Ruwitch reports on the pressure facing a leading American company.
JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: Outside Apple’s glass-walled visitor center at its headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., a graduate student from China is lying in a sleeping bag on the sidewalk, bundled up against the chilly air.
How do you feel right now?
WANG HAN: A little bit hungry, yes. But except that, I feel good.
RUWITCH: Wang Han was on day five of a weeklong hunger strike against Apple.
WANG: Apple is colluding with the Chinese government to suppress our basic human right.
RUWITCH: After that protest on the bridge in Beijing, Apple made it harder to send files widely through AirDrop. A company spokesperson said the change was part of an operating system update in December and aims to prevent things like people sending naked photos to other passengers on airplanes. But Wang is dubious.
WANG: So we think the – Apple had got some order from the Chinese government.
RUWITCH: NPR emailed Apple to ask if China requested the change. The company has not replied. For Wang, the problem with Apple in China is bigger than just AirDrop. There’s been unrest among workers at a factory in China that makes iPhones, highlighting difficult conditions. And for years, Apple’s kept tools that help people circumvent censorship in China off the App Store inside the country.
WANG: We are here to support the people in China for their courage.
RUWITCH: And he’s not alone.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Right now…
RUWITCH: The next day, about a dozen people gathered with Wang to show support in the pouring rain.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Apple, Apple, shame on you.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Apple, Apple, shame on you.
RUWITCH: One of them was Zhou Fengsuo. He’s a human rights activist and former student leader during the Tiananmen Square protests 33 years ago.
ZHOU FENGSUO: Yeah. This is the most exciting time for me since 1989. For the first time, we are hearing people’s call for political change.
RUWITCH: He’s referring to the bridge protest and street demonstrations around China last month against the government’s tough COVID rules. Apple, he says, is not helping.
ZHOU: They are calling for freedom. But a U.S. company like Apple, the most profitable company in the world – and they are aiding CCP in restricting this voice.
RUWITCH: Multinationals have always had to walk a fine line in China, and it’s not unusual to come under fire for things like factory conditions and pollution. But the political risks have been rising, with souring U.S.-China relations as the backdrop. And Zhou says Wang Han’s hunger strike represents something new.
ZHOU: This protest connected all the issues together. For me, I think the most important change is that younger generation – you know, like today’s hunger striker, Wang Han – they are picking up the torch.
RUWITCH: Apple so far has not commented on Wang’s hunger strike, which ended two weeks ago. Doug Guthrie worked for Apple in China for several years and advised company executives on Chinese politics. He says Apple’s supply chains in China are the key to its profitability.
DOUG GUTHRIE: There’s a deep partnership between companies like Apple and the Chinese government, and you got to do what they want.
RUWITCH: The company has moved some assembly to places like India and Vietnam, but Guthrie calls that hand waving about diversifying. Relocating supply chains will take years. And he says that means Apple is beholden to China. And now it has to contend with pressure from Chinese citizens who aren’t happy about that.
John Ruwitch, NPR News.
In August 2021, Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto found that Apple censors engravings in Taiwan related to the Chinese Communist Party, mainland Chinese state bodies, and Falun Gong.
Apple Accused Of Censoring App Stores In Hong Kong And Russia
Apple is continuing to cooperate with authoritarian censorship demands in Hong Kong and Russia, according to two reports from free speech campaign group GreatFire.
GreatFire’s AppleCensorship Project concludes that the company is failing to uphold its users rights to access information freely and express their views online.
“In the name of profit, Apple censors millions of users from all aspects of society: from activists and political figures to members of vulnerable minorities such as the LGBTQ+ community in Russia or religious and ethnic minorities in China,” says Benjamin Ismail, director of the AppleCensorship project.
The Apps at Risk report describes Apple as a ‘kill switch’ at the disposal of the Chinese censors, thanks to Hong Kong’s reliance on mobile apps that are banned in China.
And, it points out, while Hong Kong’s App Store remains relatively free compared to China’s App Store, it is still highly restricted, with more than 50 VPN and private browsing apps found to be unavailable. Overall, around 2,370 apps available elsewhere are missing from the Hong Kong App Store.
AppleCensorship is calling for Apple to declare publicly how it will respond if Beijing increases its crackdown on digital freedoms and access to information in Hong Kong.
“Apple should make it very clear what actions it will, or will not take, to resist app takedown requests from Beijing or from Hong Kong’s government agencies,” says Ismail.
Meanwhile, in Russia, AppleCensorship’s research indicates that specific groups of apps have been targeted by the Russian authorities, with Apple apparently having been compliant since 2018.
Most noticeable are LGBTQ+ related apps, with at least 25 apps currently unavailable, including some of the most popular LGBTQ+ apps in the world.
“Apple’s content curation policies represent a denial of the company’s stated principles and values and show a lack of respect for privacy and the protection of users’ rights,” says Ismail.
“In Russia, Apple has enabled censorship of vulnerable communities while promoting apps that are used by the government for surveillance purposes.”
Ismail says that neither Apple’s temporary withdrawal from Russia following the start of the war in Ukraine, and its decision to move part of its production out of China, has not provided tangible evidence of any improvement of the situation in the App Store so far.
He says he hopes that lawmakers around the world may introduce antitrust measures that could limit Apple’s effective control of available apps.
“For all we know, Apple is still willing to collaborate with repressive regimes,” he says. “We need to ensure that Apple will not contribute further to censorship and the erosion of democracy worldwide.”
We’ve contacted Apple for a response.
If You Build It, They Will Come: Apple Has Opened the Backdoor to Increased Surveillance and Censorship Around the World
Apple’s new program for scanning images sent on iMessage steps back from the company’s prior support for the privacy and security of encrypted messages. The program, initially limited to the United States, narrows the understanding of end-to-end encryption to allow for client-side scanning. While Apple aims at the scourge of child exploitation and abuse, the company has created an infrastructure that is all too easy to redirect to greater surveillance and censorship. The program will undermine Apple’s defense that it can’t comply with the broader demands.
For years, countries around the world have asked for access to and control over encrypted messages, asking technology companies to “nerd harder” when faced with the pushback that access to messages in the clear was incompatible with strong encryption. The Apple child safety message scanning program is currently being rolled out only in the United States.
The United States has not been shy about seeking access to encrypted communications, pressuring the companies to make it easier to obtain data with warrants and to voluntarily turn over data. However, the U.S. faces serious constitutional issues if it wanted to pass a law that required warrantless screening and reporting of content. Even if conducted by a private party, a search ordered by the government is subject to the Fourth Amendment’s protections. Any “warrant” issued for suspicionless mass surveillance would be an unconstitutional general warrant. As the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has explained, “Search warrants . . . are fundamentally offensive to the underlying principles of the Fourth Amendment when they are so bountiful and expansive in their language that they constitute a virtual, all-encompassing dragnet[.]” With this new program, Apple has failed to hold a strong policy line against U.S. laws undermining encryption, but there remains a constitutional backstop to some of the worst excesses. But U.S constitutional protection may not necessarily be replicated in every country.
Apple is a global company, with phones and computers in use all over the world, and many governments pressure that comes along with that. Apple has promised it will refuse government “demands to build and deploy government-mandated changes that degrade the privacy of users.” It is good that Apple says it will not, but this is not nearly as strong a protection as saying it cannot, which could not honestly be said about any system of this type. Moreover, if it implements this change, Apple will need to not just fight for privacy, but win in legislatures and courts around the world. To keep its promise, Apple will have to resist the pressure to expand the iMessage scanning program to new countries, to scan for new types of content and to report outside parent-child relationships.
It is no surprise that authoritarian countries demand companies provide access and control to encrypted messages, often the last best hope for dissidents to organize and communicate. For example, Citizen Lab’s research shows that—right now—China’s unencrypted WeChat service already surveils images and files shared by users, and uses them to train censorship algorithms. “When a message is sent from one WeChat user to another, it passes through a server managed by Tencent (WeChat’s parent company) that detects if the message includes blacklisted keywords before a message is sent to the recipient.” As the Stanford Internet Observatory’s Riana Pfefferkorn explains, this type of technology is a roadmap showing “how a client-side scanning system originally built only for CSAM [Child Sexual Abuse Material] could and would be suborned for censorship and political persecution.” As Apple has found, China, with the world’s biggest market, can be hard to refuse. Other countries are not shy about applying extreme pressure on companies, including arresting local employees of the tech companies.
But many times potent pressure to access encrypted data also comes from democratic countries that strive to uphold the rule of law, at least at first. If companies fail to hold the line in such countries, the changes made to undermine encryption can easily be replicated by countries with weaker democratic institutions and poor human rights records—often using similar legal language, but with different ideas about public order and state security, as well as what constitutes impermissible content, from obscenity to indecency to political speech. This is very dangerous. These countries, with poor human rights records, will nevertheless contend that they are no different. They are sovereign nations, and will see their public-order needs as equally urgent. They will contend that if Apple is providing access to any nation-state under that state’s local laws, Apple must also provide access to other countries, at least, under the same terms.
‘Five Eyes’ Countries Will Seek to Scan Messages
For example, the Five Eyes—an alliance of the intelligence services of Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—warned in 2018 that they will “pursue technological, enforcement, legislative or other measures to achieve lawful access solutions” if the companies didn’t voluntarily provide access to encrypted messages. More recently, the Five Eyes have pivoted from terrorism to the prevention of CSAM as the justification, but the demand for unencrypted access remains the same, and the Five Eyes are unlikely to be satisfied without changes to assist terrorism and criminal investigations too.
The United Kingdom’s Investigatory Powers Act, following through on the Five Eyes’ threat, allows their Secretary of State to issue “technical capacity notices,” which oblige telecommunications operators to make the technical ability of “providing assistance in giving effect to an interception warrant, equipment interference warrant, or a warrant or authorisation for obtaining communications data.” As the UK Parliament considered the IPA, we warned that a “company could be compelled to distribute an update in order to facilitate the execution of an equipment interference warrant, and ordered to refrain from notifying their customers.”
Under the IPA, the Secretary of State must consider “the technical feasibility of complying with the notice.” But the infrastructure needed to roll out Apple’s proposed changes makes it harder to say that additional surveillance is not technically feasible. With Apple’s new program, we worry that the UK might try to compel an update that would expand the current functionality of the iMessage scanning program, with different algorithmic targets and wider reporting. As the iMessage “communication safety” feature is entirely Apple’s own invention, Apple can all too easily change its own criteria for what will be flagged for reporting. Apple may receive an order to adopt its hash matching program for iPhoto into the message pre-screening. Likewise, the criteria for which accounts will apply this scanning, and where positive hits get reported, are wholly within Apple’s control.
Australia followed suit with its Assistance and Access Act, which likewise allows for requirements to provide technical assistance and capabilities, with the disturbing potential to undermine encryption. While the Act contains some safeguards, a coalition of civil society organizations, tech companies, and trade associations, including EFF and—wait for it—Apple, explained that they were insufficient.
Indeed, in Apple’s own submission to the Australian government, Apple warned “the government may seek to compel providers to install or test software or equipment, facilitate access to customer equipment, turn over source code, remove forms of electronic protection, modify characteristics of a service, or substitute a service, among other things.” If only Apple would remember that these very techniques could also be used in an attempt to mandate or change the scope of Apple’s scanning program.
While Canada has yet to adopt an explicit requirement for plain text access, the Canadian government is actively pursuing filtering obligations for various online platforms, which raise the spectre of a more aggressive set of obligations targeting private messaging applications.
Censorship Regimes Are In Place And Ready to Go
For the Five Eyes, the ask is mostly for surveillance capabilities, but India and Indonesia are already down the slippery slope to content censorship. The Indian government’s new Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code (“2021 Rules”), in effect earlier this year, directly imposes dangerous requirements for platforms to pre-screen content. Rule 4(4) compels content filtering, requiring that providers “endeavor to deploy technology-based measures,” including automated tools or other mechanisms, to “proactively identify information” that has been forbidden under the Rules.
India’s defense of the 2021 rules, written in response to the criticism from three UN Special Rapporteurs, was to highlight the very real dangers to children, and skips over the much broader mandate of the scanning and censorship rules. The 2021 Rules impose proactive and automatic enforcement of its content takedown provisions, requiring the proactive blocking of material previously held to be forbidden under Indian law. These laws broadly include those protecting “the sovereignty and integrity of India; security of the State; friendly relations with foreign States; public order; decency or morality.” This is no hypothetical slippery slope—it’s not hard to see how this language could be dangerous to freedom of expression and political dissent. Indeed, India’s track record on its Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, which has reportedly been used to arrest academics, writers and poets for leading rallies and posting political messages on social media, highlight this danger.
It would be no surprise if India claimed that Apple’s scanning program was a great start towards compliance, with a few more tweaks needed to address the 2021 Rules’ wider mandate. Apple has promised to protest any expansion, and could argue in court, as WhatsApp and others have, that the 2021 Rules should be struck down, or that Apple does not fit the definition of a social media intermediary regulated under these 2021 Rules. But the Indian rules illustrate both the governmental desire and the legal backing for pre-screening encrypted content, and Apple’s changes makes it all the easier to slip into this dystopia.
This is, unfortunately, an ever-growing trend. Indonesia, too, has adopted Ministerial Regulation MR5 to require service providers (including “instant messaging” providers) to “ensure” that their system “does not contain any prohibited [information]; and […] does not facilitate the dissemination of prohibited [information]”. MR5 defines prohibited information as anything that violates any provision of Indonesia’s laws and regulations, or creates “community anxiety” or “disturbance in public order.” MR5 also imposes disproportionate sanctions, including a general blocking of systems for those who fail to ensure there is no prohibited content and information in their systems. Indonesia may also see the iMessage scanning functionality as a tool for compliance with Regulation MR5, and pressure Apple to adopt a broader and more invasive version in their country.
Pressure Will Grow
The pressure to expand Apple’s program to more countries and more types of content will only continue. In fall of 2020, in the European Union, a series of leaked documents from the European Commission foreshadowed an anti-encryption law to the European Parliament, perhaps this year. Fortunately, there is a backstop in the EU. Under the e-commerce directive, EU Member States are not allowed to impose a general obligation to monitor the information that users transmit or store, as stated in the Article 15 of the e-Commerce Directive (2000/31/EC). Indeed, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has stated explicitly that intermediaries may not be obliged to monitor their services in a general manner in order to detect and prevent illegal activity of their users. Such an obligation will be incompatible with fairness and proportionality. Despite this, in a leaked internal document published by Politico, the European Commission committed itself to an action plan for mandatory detection of CSAM by relevant online service providers (expected in December 2021) that pointed to client-side scanning as the solution, which can potentially apply to secure private messaging apps, and seizing upon the notion that it preserves the protection of end-to-end encryption.
For governmental policymakers who have been urging companies to nerd harder, wordsmithing harder is just as good. The end result of access to unencrypted communication is the goal, and if that can be achieved in a way that arguably leaves a more narrowly defined end-to-end encryption in place, all the better for them.
All it would take to widen the narrow backdoor that Apple is building is an expansion of the machine learning parameters to look for additional types of content, the adoption of the iPhoto hash matching to iMessage, or a tweak of the configuration flags to scan, not just children’s, but anyone’s accounts. Apple has a fully built system just waiting for external pressure to make the necessary changes. China and doubtless other countries already have hashes and content classifiers to identify messages impermissible under their laws, even if they are protected by international human rights law. The abuse cases are easy to imagine: governments that outlaw homosexuality might require a classifier to be trained to restrict apparent LGBTQ+ content, or an authoritarian regime might demand a classifier able to spot popular satirical images or protest flyers.
Now that Apple has built it, they will come. With good intentions, Apple has paved the road to mandated security weakness around the world, enabling and reinforcing the arguments that, should the intentions be good enough, scanning through your personal life and private communications is acceptable. We urge Apple to reconsider and return to the mantra Apple so memorably emblazoned on a billboard at 2019’s CES conference in Las Vegas: What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.
Apple exports PRC censorship to Hong Kong and Taiwan, report says
A new investigation into Apple’s censorship of terms used to create product engravings shows that the multinational has not only broadly censored political speech in mainland China, but has partially applied its China censored keyword lists — “thoughtlessly reappropriated” from Chinese sources — to Hong Kong and Taiwan.
The report, published Wednesday by The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, a research lab studying digital threats to civil society, discovered Apple’s 1,105 censored keywords were applied “inconsistently” across six regions in Apple’s free engraving service, which allows users to put custom names or messages on products like Airpods. (Beijing delegates the burden of censorship to private companies.)
Of the 1,105 blocked keywords Citizen Lab researchers identified, most are applied in the Greater China region, Apple’s third-largest market by revenue. About 95% of all the censored terms (1,045) are applied in the mainland China market, followed by Hong Kong (542) and then Taiwan (397), the report says. Apple censors almost as much political speech in mainland China as social speech — content referencing explicit sexual content, illicit goods and services and vulgarity — which is the most commonly filtered content across regions. And because political censorship from the PRC has seeped into Hong Kong and Taiwan, Apple users in these two regions also experience political censorship when they try to engrave words.
In mainland China, researchers found that about 43% of all keywords censored by Apple’s engraving service refer to China’s political system, the Communist Party, senior government and Party leaders and dissidents. Apple applies 174 of those 458 keywords in the Hong Kong market as well, and 29 in Taiwan. For example, the traditional Chinese phrase 新聞自由, meaning freedom of the press, is censored in China and Hong Kong. Engravings referencing Mao Zedong (Chairman Mao, 毛主席) and Xi Jinping (paramount leader, 最高領導人) are filtered in all three regions, both in simplified and complex script.
According to The Citizen Lab, Apple’s public-facing documents “failed to explain how it determines the keyword lists” and the company’s censorship in mainland China “may have exceeded” its legal obligations in the market. Much of Apple’s censorship in Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China on which Beijing has significantly tightened its grip, is not required by local laws and regulations. And in Taiwan, a self-governing island, Apple has no legal obligations to perform political censorship.
Researchers say there are two possible reasons why Apple applies its mainland China censorship in Hong Kong and Taiwan. “One is that this is, in fact, intentional behavior. In which case, it does speak to [how much] they want to appease the Chinese government,” Jeffrey Knockel, co-author of the report and a research associate at The Citizen Lab, told Protocol. “But another possibility, too, is that it’s just negligence.” In a letter to The Citizen Lab, which Apple shared with Protocol, Chief Privacy Officer Jane Horvath wrote that Apple tries to not allow engraving requests that “would be considered illegal according to local laws, rules, and regulations of the countries and regions” in which it is offered.
The Citizen Lab found that Apple’s blocked keywords in Taiwan are a subset of the filtered words applied in Hong Kong, which are in turn a subset of censored words used in mainland China. Researchers found evidence suggesting Apple designed its censored keyword list for mainland China first, then constructed the Hong Kong and Taiwan lists by removing some content that doesn’t bear similar political importance for other regions. But they didn’t take out everything inapplicable.
“That wouldn’t show that these political terms are being censored intentionally, but it would still show that Apple is using a problematic methodology for constructing the lists used in Hong Kong and Taiwan,” Knockel explained.
Horvath said Apple handles engraving requests regionally. “There is no single global list that contains one set of words or phrases,” Horvath wrote in her letter. “Instead, these decisions are made through a review process where our teams assess local laws as well as their assessment of cultural sensitivities.”
“Apple does not fully understand what content they censor”
There’s also evidence that suggests that rather than carefully curating its own filter words list, Apple has copied strings of random keywords from blacklists used by Chinese tech companies.
Citizen Lab researchers identified different censored lists developed by four Chinese companies that have “a shockingly high amount of overlap” of anomalous sequences of keywords with that of Apple’s. For example, Apple’s list contains 10 random Chinese names surnamed Zhang with no clear political significance, and researchers found that those names appeared in a larger interval of keywords blacklisted by the Sina Show live streaming software. In another case, Apple blocks the term “SNK.NI8.NET,” which refers to a website that hasn’t been in operation since 2005. Researchers found it in a long string of filter words on NetEase Games’ blacklist, which Apple all copied to block.
Laws and regulations in China regarding content moderation are largely vague and opaque. There is no central censored keyword list in China; instead, tech companies are left on their own to develop lists of words and names to block, meaning little overlap exists between censored lists owned by different companies, according to Knockel. The significant overlap of consecutive filtered words between Apple’s list and those used by Chinese tech companies, however, doesn’t suggest that Apple copied its list from Chinese companies. “Maybe there’s some third party, possibly even the government, who provided them to Apple,” Knockel said.
Though Apple’s engraving political censorship seems expansive, Eric Liu, whose earlier documentation of blocked keywords on Apple’s new AirTag products for the China Digital Times inspired the Citizen Lab’s investigation, told Protocol that Apple’s censorship scope is far narrower than that of the Chinese companies. Liu is a former censor for Chinese tech companies. “Apple has made some essential mistakes that even novices [in China] will not make,” Liu said. “For example, the children of senior national leaders are not in its sensitive thesaurus, which is absolutely not allowed [in China]; they are much more sensitive than [dissident] Cheng Guangcheng or [exiled Tibetan spiritual leader] the Dalai Lama.”
Liu believes what he calls the “lameness” of Apple’s China filter list suggests Apple might have its own in-house censorship team, because “if it were a Chinese company to provide censorship to Apple, they would’ve done a far better job.”
Apple’s Horvath confirmed in her letter that the multinational company’s own content moderation teams rely on information from outside sources, but “no third parties or government agencies have been involved [in] the process [of filtering words].” She also wrote that Apple’s curation of blocked terms for the most part “is not an automated process and relies on manual curation,” which at times “can result in engraving requests being mistakenly rejected.” Citizen Lab researchers said it’s difficult to compare lists. But for Apple, or any tech company operating in China, their yardstick for “success” is whether their censorship system can keep them out of trouble.
“At the end of the day, for a lot of companies, filtering is the cost they have to bear for conducting business in China,” Lotus Ruan, co-author of the report and a senior researcher at The Citizen Lab, told Protocol. Censorship “could be something [companies] just want to get over with … to show the government that they have done something already.”
statista.com, “The 100 largest companies in the world by market capitalization in 2022.”; eff.org, “If You Build It, They Will Come: Apple Has Opened the Backdoor to Increased Surveillance and Censorship Around the World.” By Kurt Opsahl; barrons.com, “Apple Is No Longer the World’s Most Valuable Company. This Company Is No. 1.” By Brian Swint; en.wikipedia.org, “Censorship by Apple.” by wikipedia Editors; npr.org, “Apple, accused of supporting China’s censorship, is now facing new criticism.” By John Ruwitch; forbes.com, “Apple Accused Of Censoring App Stores In Hong Kong And Russia.” By Emma Woollacott; protocol.com, “Apple exports PRC censorship to Hong Kong and Taiwan, report says.” By Shen Lu;
The 100 largest companies in the world by market capitalization in 2022
(in billion U.S. dollars)
Apple Is No Longer the World’s Most Valuable Company. This Company Is No. 1.
Oil is emerging as mightier than tech amid the turbulence that has defined financial markets over the past few months.
Saudi Aramco, the state-backed producer, has toppled Apple , the maker of iPhones and Mac computers, off its top spot as the world’s most valuable company.
The oil giant rose to a near-record high Wednesday with a market capitalization of $2.4 trillion, pushing it ahead of Apple , which fell more than 5% to just below that level.
Apple (ticker: AAPL) shares have declined almost 20% this year, while Aramco has gained 28%. Saudi Aramco (2222.SA) last surpassed the value of Apple in 2020.
The company with the monopoly on extracting crude from Saudi Arabia, home to the world’s second-biggest reserves, has benefited from the surge in oil prices since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. That’s also helped shares of U.S. producers Exxon Mobil (XOM), Chevron (CVX), and Occidental Petroleum (OXY).
Meanwhile, Apple has lost ground as faster inflation forced the Federal Reserve into action. Rising interest rates have battered technology stocks, dragging the Nasdaq Composite down 25% in 2022 so far.
Brent crude, the international standard, traded down 1.9% on Thursday at $105.49 on concerns that an economic slowdown will curb fuel demand. But it is up more than 50% from a year ago. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, was down 2% at $103.45.
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