Apple has been very vocal about its commitment to privacy and human rights and has built a reputation as a company that protects its users’ data. But in recent years the Chinese government has piled on the pressure.
What’s going on?
There’s been an economic tit-for-tat going on between China and the West. The dispute, which has focused mostly on China and the United States, has placed economic sanctions on individuals, tariffs and more.
Western companies like H&M, Nike and Calvin Klein have all recently faced backlash from China – everything from loss of brand ambassadors to full-out boycotts.
The backlash came after the companies spoke out against the treatment of the Uighur population in the Xinjiang region of China, where there are reports of “re-education” centers that engage in forced labor and even torture.
What does this have to do with Apple?
Much of Apple’s production and manufacturing takes place in China.
China also makes up a fifth of Apple’s revenue worldwide, so not only is manufacturing a very important part of Apple’s business there, but the company also makes a lot of money by selling to Chinese consumers.
Apple has been very vocal about its commitment to privacy and human rights and has built a reputation as a company that protects its users’ data.
But in recent years the Chinese government has put pressure on Apple.
In 2017, a Chinese law was passed that made it so that the Chinese government controlled and operated the data centers that hold the data of Apple users.
Apple went along with the law, claiming that customers’ data security had never been compromised.
But independent security experts and Apple engineers believed that Apple wouldn’t really be able to stop Chinese authorities from accessing personal data anyway.
More recently, Apple has given a Chinese government-owned company called Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD) rights and access to the data of its Chinese users.
It’s also recently become more well known that Apple proactively removes apps and screens them intensively for things like mentions of Tiananmen Square, the Dalai Lama and independence for Tibet and Taiwan, before allowing them to exist on the App Store.
It looks like Apple does this because of previous legal issues the company has had with the Chinese government over content that is considered to be sensitive in the country.
Why does it matter so much?
The problem here doesn’t seem to be that Apple is giving the Chinese government access to its user data, but more so that Apple has said repeatedly that it would try to protect that data at all costs.
Because China is such a major player in the manufacturing and sales of Apple products, it looks like Apple has given too much leverage to China and the company has failed to defend its users’ data because of it.
And sure, Apple was clearly reluctant to give China the access it demanded, but ultimately the company didn’t appear to fight the Chinese government’s demands the way you’d expect they would, given all Apple’s talk about the importance of user privacy.
Apple is really the only company that can fight back against China. There aren’t any other companies good enough at building computers or phones that can get around Chinese surveillance, or that are big enough to really push back against China’s policies.
Yes, Apple does have leverage. After all, China doesn’t want to lose the millions of jobs Apple creates there.
The question is, if Apple can’t stand up to China, will anyone else be able to?
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