Holes close in ‘Great Fire­wall

Ap­ple and Ama­zon re­move apps that by­pass China cen­sors.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By Emily Rauhala Rauhala writes for the Wash­ing­ton Post.

Ap­ple and Ama­zon re­move apps that by­pass China’s cen­sors, rais­ing con­cerns.

Moves by business gi­ants Ap­ple Inc. and Ama­zon.com Inc. to stop peo­ple from us­ing cen­sor­ship-skirt­ing apps in China have re­newed ques­tions about the ex­tent to which U.S. com­pa­nies are will­ing to work with au­thor­i­ties to op­er­ate in the vast but tightly con­trolled Chi­nese mar­ket.

Ap­ple Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Tim Cook de­fended the com­pany’s de­ci­sion to re­move dozens of apps de­signed to cir­cum­vent cen­sor­ship from the Chi­nese ver­sion of its app store.

In an earn­ings call Tues­day, Cook said China tight­ened its rules on vir­tual pri­vate net­works, or VPNs, in 2015 and was now mak­ing a re­newed push to en­force them. “We would ob­vi­ously rather not re­move the apps, but like we do in other coun­tries, we fol­low the law wher­ever we do business,” he said.

By help­ing Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties curb the use of many pop­u­lar VPNs, U.S. tech com­pa­nies are seen as help­ing the Com­mu­nist Party bol­ster what is al­ready the world’s most elab­o­rate and so­phis­ti­cated cen­sor­ship regime, of­ten called the Great Fire­wall.

In ad­di­tion to block­ing the likes of Google and Face­book, China’s cen­sors shape what is pub­lished on­line, pull con­tent deemed po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive and, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study, even in­ter­cept im­ages sent via chat apps.

Cook ar­gued that pulling some apps is bet­ter than en­tirely pulling out of the mar­ket. “We strongly be­lieve that par­tic­i­pat­ing in mar­kets and bring­ing ben­e­fits to cus­tomers is in the best in­ter­est of the folks there and in other coun­tries as well,” he said. “And so we be­lieve in en­gag­ing with gov­ern­ments even when we dis­agree.”

Ama­zon was in the spot­light Wed­nes­day af­ter dis­clo­sures that its Chi­nese part­ner, Bei­jing Sin­net Tech­nol­ogy, sent emails to clients ad­vis­ing them to delete tools used to cir­cum­vent cen­sor­ship. The news was first re­ported by the New York Times.

An em­ployee said Sin­net sent emails Friday and again Mon­day warn­ing clients that they must elim­i­nate any con­tent that vi­o­lates Chi­nese laws. The in­struc­tions came from China’s Min­istry of In­dus­try and In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy, the em­ployee said.

On Wed­nes­day, calls to Ama­zon Web Ser­vices’ China of­fice went unan­swered. (Ama­zon founder and Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Jef­frey Be­zos owns the Wash­ing­ton Post.)

When China’s first and only win­ner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Liu Xiaobo, died in state cus­tody last month, news of his death was all but scrubbed from the Web in that coun­try. On some plat­forms, even the can­dle emoji was blocked.

To get around th­ese re­stric­tions, mil­lions of Chi­nese in­di­vid­u­als and busi­nesses use VPNs. Bei­jing knows this but has let the prac­tice con­tinue, to an ex­tent — in part be­cause it is good for business and helps aca­demic re­search.

It is not yet clear how the lat­est drive to reg­u­late VPNs will play out.

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