Apple accused of ‘political censorship’ in favor of CCP in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan

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Researchers working at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab have discovered that Apple is preventing customers in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan from engraving their phones with certain phrases that, it appears, might be offensive to the Chinese Communist Party.

“Within mainland China, we found that Apple censors political content including broad references to Chinese leadership and China’s political system, names of dissidents and independent news organizations, and general terms relating to religions, democracy, and human rights,” the researchers announced in a press release Wednesday.

“We found that part of Apple’s mainland China political censorship bleeds into both Hong Kong and Taiwan. Much of this censorship exceeds Apple’s legal obligations in Hong Kong, and we are aware of no legal justification for the political censorship of content in Taiwan,” they added.

According to Insider, the researchers discovered the problematic keywords by “keying in thousands of phrases into the company’s engraving service in its local websites.”

Using this brute force tactic, they discovered 1,045 blocked keywords in China, 542 blocked keywords in Hong Kong and 397 blocked keywords in Taiwan.

“Human rights,” “Dalai,” “freedom of the press,”  “double universal suffrage” and “8964,” which is a reference to the Tiananmen Square massacre, are among the banned phrases.

The researchers believe the censorship was designed to target China but somehow, someway got extended to Hong Kong and Taiwan, two territories that China has laid claim to, but whose citizens have claimed their own sovereignty.

The researchers call the censorship being carried out by Apple “political censorship.”

“Such product customizations have a history of being used for political expression, as well as being subject to political censorship exceeding that required by companies’ public policies,” they wrote.

They further pointed out that Apple refuses to pinpoint the exact methodology it uses to determine what words deserve to be censored.

“Apple’s public-facing documents failed to explain how it derives their keyword lists,” they wrote.

They tried reaching out to Apple for comment, but Apple chief privacy officer Jane Horvath responded with a letter brimming with obfuscation.

“As with everything at Apple, the process for engraving is led by our values. We are very glad to offer customers the opportunity to express themselves and we have guidelines in place to ensure local laws and customs are respected and adhered to in every country and region where we operate,” she said.

Yet like other American corporations that have sold out to the CCP, their only values appear to be “corporate lust for profits.”

“As we state on our website the feature was designed to add names, initials, phone numbers or a favorite emoji. We try to not allow requests which could represent trademark or intellectual property violations, are vulgar or culturally insensitive, could be construed as inciting violence, or would be considered illegal according to local laws, rules, and regulations of the countries and regions where we personalize and where we ship,” Horvath continued.

“We handle engraving requests regionally. There is no single global list that contains one set of words or phrases. Instead, these decisions are made through a review process where our teams assess local laws as well as their assessment of cultural sensitivities. We revisit these decisions from time to time. While those teams rely on information from a range of sources, no third parties or government agencies have been involved the process,” she added.

But what standards are used during this “review process?”

And why should anyone believe “no third parties or government agencies have been involved the process” given Apple’s love affair with the CCP?

An investigation by The New York Times published in the spring found numerous examples of Apple catering to the CCP’s whims.

“In 2018, China’s internet regulators ordered Apple to reject an app from Guo Wengui, a Chinese billionaire who had broadcast claims of corruption inside the Communist Party,” the Times reported, describing one such example.

“Top Apple executives then decided to add Mr. Guo to Apple’s “China sensitivities list,” which meant software would scan apps for mention of him and app reviewers would be trained to reject his apps, according to court documents,” the Times added.

Apple has also allegedly been censoring content here in the states on behalf of the CCP:

The Citizen Lab researchers didn’t address the notion of Apple essentially working for the CCP, but it did “present evidence that Apple does not fully understand what content they censor and that, rather than each censored keyword being born of careful consideration, many seem to have been thoughtlessly reappropriated from other sources.”

“In one case, Apple censored ten Chinese names surnamed Zhang with generally unclear significance. The names appear to have been copied from a list we found also used to censor products from a Chinese company,” they noted.

Vivek Saxena

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