Technology Analysts, Developers, Journalists, and Activists Challenge Apple’s Complicity with Chinese Government Censorship

Technology Analysts, Developers, Journalists, and Activists Challenge Apple’s Complicity with Chinese Government Censorship

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, June 22, 2020

CONTACT:
Lobsang Gyatso, Tibet Action Institute |+91 98824 07365  | [email protected]

Technology Analysts, Developers, Journalists, and Activists Challenge Apple’s Complicity with Chinese Government Censorship
The first-ever Worldwide Developers Against Apple Censorship Conference (WWDAACC) kicked off this morning, hacking questions on human rights & censorship for China’s App Store

[Dharamsala] – The Conference includes leaders representing Tibetans, Uyghurs, Hong Kongers and other affected communities directly impacted by Apple’s actions, alongside high profile speakers from the Citizen Lab, Human Rights Watch, and SumOfUs. The day-long online event, organized by Tibet Action Institute alongside other partner organizations, coincided with the opening of Apple’s famed Worldwide Developers Conference and raised issues of app censorship in Apple’s China App Store and the effects for both iOS users living behind the Great Firewall as well as developers working to publish their apps. 

As part of the conference, Nathan Freitas, Director at Guardian Project, a leading developer of mobile privacy tools, spoke to his own experience of having two apps, ChatSecure and Onion Browser, removed from the Apple App Store in China. “In one opaque stroke of the ban hammer, without explanation or chance for appeal, we were cut off from billions of users who deserve access to technology that support their human right to privacy,” he said.

He added, “Tim Cook has said he wants to create a ‘better, more just world for everyone’ yet upholds a double standard for users in open societies versus those using China’s App Store. Apple has got to bring the App Store in line with its purported values across the board. That’s what visionaries do – and what Apple is capable of doing.”

The first session of the WWDAACC addressed how the government of China’s censorship regime currently functions and how Apple is helping to enable the severe rights restrictions that Tibetans, Uyghurs, Hong Kongers, and Chinese people live under. 

The Censorship in China and China-Controlled Regions: Then & Now panelists also pointed out that the same developers attending Apple’s workshops on envisioning and building the next generation of apps could easily have their hard work pulled from the App Store if deemed to be in violation of the frequently undisclosed laws enforced by the Cyberspace Administration of China. Such was the fate of HKmap.live, an app whose global and controversial removal from the App Store last fall sparked a forceful letter to Apple from a bipartisan group of US Congressional members condemning the company’s actions. A developer from HKmap.live will speak on the WWDAACC panel Publishing iOS apps When Censorsored scheduled for 2:30pm-4:00pm EDT.

“The current cost of doing business in China includes following content regulations and responding to government requests. Companies that choose to operate in this market at the very least need to be transparent about their decisions and what they mean for the rights of users,” said Masashi Crete-Nishihata, Associate Director, Citizen Lab.

A panel on Freedom of Expression & Apple: The Double Standard for China, Tibet, East Turkestan, and Hong Kong (11:45am-1:15pm EDT), will also include movement leaders from Students for a Free Tibet, World Uyghur Congress, and Keyboard Frontline discussing impacts on the ground of Apple’s complicity with the government of China’s censorship and surveillance regime, as well as the campaign to challenge Apple’s role.

In addition to panel discussions, the WWDAACC is holding two invitation-only “hackathons” to explore the frequently opaque and undisclosed reasons that iOS apps protecting privacy and freedom of expression (among others) are routinely pulled from China’s App Store. Participants plan to publish collaborative reports on their findings post conference.

“By pulling anti-censorship apps from China’s App Store with little to no transparency, and at times without even informing developers, Apple is directly enabling the Chinese government’s efforts to repress, censor, and crack down on the free expression Apple claims to so strongly support,” said Lobsang Gyatso, Digital Security Program Director for Tibet Action Institute who will work with participants in the hackathons as well as moderate the third panel. “While Apple executives repeatedly claim the company believes privacy and freedom of expression are fundamental human rights, Apple’s actions are instead serving to weaken global norms and standards upholding freedom of expression as a fundamental right.” 

Throughout the day, speakers are bringing to the forefront the impacts of the company’s actions on Tibetan, Uyghur, Hong Konger, Taiwanese, and Chinese iOS users. Panelists also pointed out that Apple’s removals of news apps like the New York Times and audited VPNs from China’s App Store not only put activists at grave risk in their rights work, but such censorship also stymies academics, scientists, business owners, and anyone trying to simply access and communicate the full range of internet content.

Note to Editor: For the full list of speakers, panels, and schedule, visit: https://wwdaacc20.com/

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