Apple is the largest corporation in the world and approximately ⅓ of its consumer base is living under Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule, including in Tibet, East Turkistan, Southern Mongolia, Hong Kong, and China.

Apple’s Dangerous Double Standard for iOS Users Living Under the CCP

Apple says freedom of expression, access to information, and privacy are fundamental human rights. But Apple’s App Store in the Chinese market is different from the App Store in other countries. Apple routinely removes critical privacy, communication, and news apps from China’s App Store. App takedowns include the New York Times, Quartz, and more than 1,000 Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), putting iOS users at risk of repression and removing their right to unfettered access to the internet.

VPNs, in particular, help people be more anonymous online and have freer access to information. For people living under authoritarian rule – where surveillance and the risk of imprisonment is constant – these apps can be a matter of life and death.

Because of Apple, iOS users in Tibet are even more at risk of being repressed for what they do or say online. Especially since Apple moved data storage for iOS users in the Chinese market (including in Tibet) onto mainland China, giving easier access to Chinese authorities.


Apple’s Collusion with the Chinese Government

Since 2017, Apple has shockingly removed around 55,000 active apps from China’s App Store. Sometimes they remove apps because the government of China tells them to and sometimes they do it on their own. Either way, Apple’s collusion with Chinese authorities violates human rights standards for businesses laid out by the United Nations (UN), which states that companies must not violate the human rights of people using or making their products.

The Campaign

After an historic victory stopping Google from creating its censored search engine Project Dragonfly, an empowered coalition of Tibetans, Uyghurs, Hongkongers, Tawainese and Chinese rights activists, corporate accountability organizations, and technology groups began an ongoing campaign to hold Apple accountable for helping the CCP in its brutal repression.

As a coalition, we have written letters to Apple execs, made videos, held protests, had more than 135,000 people sign a petition, and submitted a shareholder resolution on freedom of expression and access to information. In February 2021, 40.6% of shareholders agreed that Apple needs to do better and be more transparent on these fundamental human rights. As a direct result of the campaign, Apple published its first-ever Human Rights Policy which included access to information and freedom of expression!

There’s More To Be Done

Apple’s new Human Rights Policy was a huge victory to be celebrated. However, words on paper do not protect people from the brutal surveillance of the CCP, especially when the policies are not implemented. Apple continued to remove life-saving privacy and encrypted communication apps from its China App Store. 

So we kept the pressure on….

For the 2022 Apple shareholder meeting, the coalition of impacted communities and corporate watchdogs joined together once again to support a proposal submitted by Azzad Asset Management and Open Mic, calling on Apple to be more transparent in its app takedowns (e.g., stating exactly what apps are removed by country instead of just the number of apps). While the resolution did not pass, the 31% Yes vote meant that Apple was again under the microscope and becoming even more vulnerable to shareholder pressure.

In fact, in January 2023, Apple decided not to face another shareholder vote challenging their transparency, wanting to avoid mounting evidence that their policies threaten freedom of expression and the lives of people living under authoritarian rule in places like Tibet, China, and Russia. Instead, after meeting with stakeholders, Apple agreed to some enhancement of its disclosures on apps and their takedowns.

Apple’s change to its transparency report is a good first step, showing that sustained, cross-movement organizing can achieve meaningful victories! 

However, it’s not yet enough. We will keep looking for opportunities to work with corporate accountability groups, investors, and other impacted communities to secure more accountability from Apple. In doing so, we will continue to push back on the government of China’s efforts to erode global norms around freedom of expression and access to information, which are, in Apple’s own words, fundamental human rights.


What We Want

  1. Apple’s hands are not tied. For example, they can allow iOS users in Tibet, East Turkistan, Southern Mongolia, China, and Hong Kong to access approved and certified VPNs via developers’ platforms instead of just China’s App Store.
  2. Apple is not beholden to the Chinese government. They can and must be more accountable to the communities they operate in by creating a Human Rights Committee of impacted people to help guide them.
  3. Their transparency report is still not transparent enough. They need to come up to industry standards and reveal exactly what apps they are removing at the demand of authoritarian governments like China, and why.