US groups to Apple: do not support censorship in China

Several civil, political and human rights groups have written an open letter to Apple asking them to no longer allow any kind of censorship and surveillance in China on the company’s devices.

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The letter, addressed directly to Phil Schiller, was signed by groups like Tibet Action Institute, Free Tibet, Keep Taiwan Free and SumOfUs.

We are a coalition of civil, political, human rights, freedom of expression, corporate responsibility, privacy and digital security organizations, many of which are longtime Apple users. Together we represent communities in the United States and overseas severely affected by Apple’s decisions regarding the Chinese App Store and user information.

We are writing this letter to express our serious concerns about removing several apps from the Chinese app store, including over 1,000 virtual private network (VPN) software and news apps such as the New York Times and Quartz, as well as data transfer iCloud of Apple users on servers managed and controlled by the Chinese government. Many of our organizations have sent various letters to CEO Tim Cook raising these concerns and have not yet received any response. Since Apple’s removal of VPN apps and news sets an unethical double standard for the Chinese App Store, we are now sharing our concerns directly with the chief App Store manager.

The letter highlights concerns such as “Apple’s compliance with China’s requests for censorship and surveillance“, that puts Apple’s actions in the country in contradiction with what the company publicly claims about privacy and respect for human rights.

In fact, Apple’s actions show that privacy is a right only for certain people. Since Apple removed the VPNs from the App Store, iOS users in China have not been able to easily protect their Internet communications from pervasive government surveillance. Apple’s closed App Store ecosystem obliges users who want to install prohibited applications to jailbreak their devices and to give up the security measures that make Apple devices unique. In addition, since the transfer of iCloud data to China, Apple has further ensured that hundreds of millions of people are forced to choose between allowing their data to be taken by the authorities without a proper process, or giving up the online storage and backup measures that Apple has diligently developed.

The letter also mentions other cases such as the HKmap.live app removed by Apple, as well as the removal of the Taiwanese flag for users in Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China.

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