Apple pulls New York Times apps in China after government request

© Thomas Peter/Illustration An illustration shows a person looking at a computer screen in Beijing showing an Apple iTunes store message saying that the New York Times app is not available in the Chinese store, in China January 5, 2017.
Apple has removed the New York Times' English- and Chinese-language news apps from its iTunes store in China following a request from local authorities, the companies said separately on Thursday.
The apps, which the newspaper said were removed on Dec. 23, are the latest Western services to fall foul of Chinese authorities, whose other scalps include Apple's own iBooks and iTunes Movies stores which have been blocked since April.

Their removal comes just over a month after the Cyberspace Administration of China called for greater media scrutiny, citing fears of social disorder, moral harm and threats to national security. The internet regulator did not respond to a faxed request for comment about the Times' apps.

"The development of the internet in China must respect China's laws and regulations, in principle," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in response to a question about the apps.

New York Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy told Reuters that the newspaper has asked Apple to reconsider.

"The request by the Chinese authorities to remove our apps is part of their wider attempt to prevent readers in China from accessing independent news coverage by The New York Times of that country," Murphy said.

The government has blocked the Times' websites since 2012 after a series of articles on the wealth of the family of then-Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, the New York Times reported.

"We have been informed that the app is in violation of local regulations," Apple spokesman Fred Sainz in California told Reuters.

An Apple spokeswoman in China declined to comment on specific reasons or which regulatory body made the request.

Apple has previously removed news apps from its China app store, but none as high-profile as the New York Times. At least three other apps have been removed from the app store in recent years on the grounds of "illegal content," according to news reports and the apps' developers.

Apps from other international publications whose websites are blocked, including CNN, The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, were still available on Thursday.

Chinese mainstream media has not reported the app removal but it was discussed widely on social media.

"This must be coming from the request of The Wall right?" said one user on microblogging service Weibo, referring to state-backed internet censorship. "Apple has made enough money in China, it's OK for it to take the blame this time for the sake of the money."

Other users said they would attempt to change their country of residence within the app store to restore access.

While the New York Times' websites have been blocked, mirroring sites managed by anti-censorship advocates have periodically made their content available.


Why Apple removed the New York Times from its app store in China

JANUARY 5, 2017 —The New York Times's apps can no longer be found in the Apple app store in China.

Apple removed both the English- and Chinese-language apps late last month at the request of Chinese authorities, according to the Times. The apps had allowed readers in mainland China to access Times articles without needing to use a Virtual Private Network, or a VPN, to sidestep China's censorship apparatus after the government began blocking the Times’s websites in 2012.

"For some time now the New York Times app has not been permitted to display content to most users in China and we have been informed that the app is in violation of local regulations," said Fred Sainz, an Apple spokesman, as reported by the Times. "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 move came one month after the Cyberspace Administration of China called for greater media scrutiny to prevent social disorder, moral harm, and threats to national security. Amnesty International said Apple's compliance with the Chinese authorities in removing the New York Times apps fits into a broader, growing trend of big tech companies enabling China to crack down on free speech, according to CNN.

"China has a very particular view of how the Internet should be run: under a heavy government thumb," Peter Ford reported for The Christian Science Monitor in December 2015 from Beijing:
And Beijing would like the rest of the world to agree that each government should rule its own Internet territory as it sees fit....

The Chinese government has made the Internet one of its top priorities. With over 650 million people online and four of the world’s top ten Internet companies, Beijing has publicly set a course to be "an Internet superpower" by the end of this decade.

"Harnessing cyberspace is central to the Communist party’s policy," says Bill Bishop, a veteran China watcher and Internet entrepreneur. "They have a strategy … to harness the Internet for maximum value for government and business and to control any challenge" from critics.
The Times had asked Apple to reconsider its decision, to no avail.

"The request by the Chinese authorities to remove our apps is part of their wider attempt to prevent readers in China from accessing independent news coverage by The New York Times of that country, coverage which is no different from the journalism we do about every other country in the world," Eileen Murphy, a Times spokeswoman in New York, said in a statement.

A spokesman for Apple declined on comment on what local regulations the Times apps reportedly violated, who had contacted Apple and when, and whether a court order or other legal document had been presented, according to the Times.

Patrick Poon, a researcher with Amnesty International, told CNN he found it "extremely worrying that Apple is kowtowing to China's censorship by deleting New York Times apps."

Chinese mainstream media has not reported the app removal, although the move was discussed by many on social media.

"This must be coming from the request of The Wall right?" one web user wrote on the microblogging service Weibo, in reference to state-backed internet censorship. "Apple has made enough money in China, it's OK for it to take the blame this time for the sake of the money."

Apps from other international news outlets whose websites have been blocked in China, including those of the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, and CNN, were still available on the App Store in China as of Thursday.

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