Apple disables iOS News app in China amid censorship concerns

Posted:
in iPhone edited October 2019
Apple is actively blocking Chinese access to the News app shipped as part of iOS 9, a number of iPhone and iPad users recently reported, a move thought to be motivated by that country's stringent media rules.




The issue was initially brought to light by software developer Larry Salibra, who last week noted Apple disables News when roaming in mainland China, a policy he finds "disconcerting." Apple has not yet acknowledge the situation, but The New York Times on Saturday cited a person with knowledge of the matter as saying News is indeed inaccessible in China.

The News app can only be downloaded in the U.S., where the service is live, and test markets in Australia and the UK. Customers who purchase an iPhone or iPad and install News in a supported country can usually access content while traveling internationally, except in China where the service is completely cut off. As seen in the screenshot above, Chinese users attempting to connect to News app servers are met with an error message reading, "Can't refresh right now. News isn't supported in your current region."

In a post to his blog, Salibra details what he calls Apple's "China Kill Switch," a method of shutting off specific services based not on location. The developer conducted tests at a river crossing between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland to find Apple blocking News access not on a device geolocation or IP basis, but by local cellular network.

"What worries me, is that the mechanism Apple uses to disable the News app and Apple Maps uses the location of the user to change the behavior of their device without their permission, even if the location service is disabled in the privacy settings," Salibra writes. (Emphasis in the original.)

Without official comment Apple's motives remain unknown, though it is speculated that strict Chinese laws dictating Internet content censorship are to blame. According to The Times, Beijing generally holds individual companies responsible for filtering out "sensitive" content, meaning Apple would need to apply an automated, or curated, censorship system to its News aggregation service.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 68

    At least Apple respects Chinese laws unlike some other companies that got kicked out of China.

  • Reply 2 of 68
    At least Apple respects Chinese laws unlike some other companies that got kicked out of China.

    Not that respecting Chinese law is necessarily something to be proud of, but the fact that Apple's ecosystem actually works in China is a big plus. If you buy an Android device in China, you generally get it with a Chinese App Store (there are many) and a suite of local apps. Virtually all Google's own apps that form the core of Android for most users are nonfunctional in China. By comparison, virtually all Apple's products and services work just fine. you can use iCloud mail, but not Gmail, Apple Maps but not Google Maps, iCloud Drive and iCloud photos, but not Google Drive or Google Photos.
  • Reply 3 of 68
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    Sad to see that Apple support censorship. Tim Cook is all about human rights and values except when it comes to China. I wish American companies would quit letting China bully them around.
  • Reply 4 of 68

    The News app is crap anyway.  They should disable it everywhere.

     

    However, I do love how the Apple 'faithful' spin every move as 'magical'.

  • Reply 5 of 68
    jungmarkjungmark Posts: 6,867member
    News-gate.
  • Reply 6 of 68
    mubailimubaili Posts: 442member
    Not sure what can Apple do here other than follow the Chinese law. Follow the law first and then lobby and have discussions with the authorities. Other than a direct disobedience from Chinese citizens there isn't much any company can do, whether it is Google, Apple, or Microsoft. It is very sad.
  • Reply 7 of 68
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post



    "What worries me, is that the mechanism Apple uses to disable the News app and Apple Maps uses the location of the user to change the behavior of their device without their permission, even if the location service is disabled in the privacy settings," Salibra writes. (Emphasis in the original.)

     

    So Salibra thinks that using the cellular network to determine your location violates your privacy settings? Those settings only technically pertain to use of the location services (meaning GPS), not "determining your location." I get that the net effect of blacklisting a cellular network is to disable a feature by "your location," but I think it's a wishy-washy argument to say that it violates the spirit of the location services privacy settings. There will always be a number of ways an app can suss out your general location without location services (GPS): cellular network, nearby WiFi access points, and local IP address (if connected to WiFi). I don't believe that the privacy settings for location services implies total privacy from all other indirect forms of snooping your location.

     

    I do get that there's a bigger issue than just this privacy setting: how people in China deal with censorship. The Chinese lack the cultural habit of speaking out on public policy issues like censorship; they've learned to circumvent some of those censorship rules, say, by connecting through Hong Kong based servers or proxies. My assumption is that Salibra and others who live or travel in China are disappointed with Apple for using a more foolproof way to enforce censorship; one that isn't easily defeated by enabling privacy settings like they may be used to. He doesn't say that, but I think that's what this "issue" is about.

  • Reply 8 of 68
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Rogifan View Post



    Sad to see that Apple support censorship. Tim Cook is all about human rights and values except when it comes to China. I wish American companies would quit letting China bully them around.



    Well, it's not a matter of supporting censorship.  China is a sovereign country and if you want to operate there, you have to abide by the laws.

  • Reply 9 of 68
    idreyidrey Posts: 647member
    rogifan wrote: »
    Sad to see that Apple support censorship. Tim Cook is all about human rights and values except when it comes to China. I wish American companies would quit letting China bully them around.

    So you are saying that when people come to your house
    They can do as as they wish, with out boundaries? They can
    Ignor your rules completely?
  • Reply 10 of 68
    rogifan wrote: »
    Sad to see that Apple support censorship. Tim Cook is all about human rights and values except when it comes to China. I wish American companies would quit letting China bully them around.

    I hear you, but Apple cannot do anything to help people in China if they are not doing business in China. Also, Apple is in fact doing business in China and is not on a humanitarian mission. They are doing more for the factory workers there than most though.
  • Reply 11 of 68
    For reference, many U.S. based media services are unavailable to me here in South Korea, even though I am an American with a U.S. Apple store account. I get the same irritating "not supported in your current region" error message. It that "censorship"? Most would say, no, beacause they accept the logic and "justice" of how certain kinds of bits crossing national boundaries can be blocked due to legal limits specified by contracts and enforced by the power of the federal legal system. In fact it is a variety of censorship, just the acceptable kind to most Americsns done on behalf of corporations, for profit.

    In sum, in China certain sites involving data from abroad are unavailable to users, and we decry it as "censorship", while the blocking of dozens, if not hundreds of U.S. media sites from transmitting to, say, Canada is blandly accepted as normal and appropriate.
  • Reply 12 of 68
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by gordon1420 View Post

     
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by AppleSauce007 View Post



    At least Apple respects Chinese laws unlike some other companies that got kicked out of China.




    Not that respecting Chinese law is necessarily something to be proud of, but the fact that Apple's ecosystem actually works in China is a big plus. If you buy an Android device in China, you generally get it with a Chinese App Store (there are many) and a suite of local apps. Virtually all Google's own apps that form the core of Android for most users are nonfunctional in China. By comparison, virtually all Apple's products and services work just fine. you can use iCloud mail, but not Gmail, Apple Maps but not Google Maps, iCloud Drive and iCloud photos, but not Google Drive or Google Photos.

    The list of things blocked in China also include:

     

    facebook.com, twitter.com, instagram.com, nytimes.com, dropbox.com, vimeo.com, soundcloud.com, bloomberg.com, duckduckgo.com....

     

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Websites_blocked_in_mainland_China

  • Reply 13 of 68
    binexbinex Posts: 23member

    I just wanted to highlight that this: "The News app can only be downloaded in the U.S., where the service is live, and test markets in Australia and the UK." is not strictly true.

     

    First of all from what I understand the news app is not downloaded, it is included as part of the iOS download. When I first went to the app store it showed "open" for the news app, but when I tried to access it I was redirected to Safari which in turn tried to access a localhost address and failed.

     

    Secondly, whether you're in the US or not you can access the news app, by simply changing your Region in Settings>General>Language & Region>Region to United States and then restarting your iPhone (the restart may not be necessary when've you done it once?) and voila it automagically appears! If you change the Region setting back, the news app disappears again.

     

    I must say that I am a little disappointed with it so far and still prefer Flipboard. 

  • Reply 14 of 68
    techlover wrote: »
    The list of things blocked in China also include:

    facebook.com, twitter.com, instagram.com, nytimes.com, dropbox.com, vimeo.com, soundcloud.com, bloomberg.com, duckduckgo.com....

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Websites_blocked_in_mainland_China

    The list of things that is blocked in China is massive and growing. In addition, pretty much any site not hosted within China is incredibly slow to access, due to congested and filtered gateways. A VPN is pretty much a must for a foreign visitor in China these days. It's ungodly slow, but at least you can access everything.
  • Reply 15 of 68
    joshajosha Posts: 901member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Rogifan View Post



    Sad to see that Apple support censorship. Tim Cook is all about human rights and values except when it comes to China. I wish American companies would quit letting China bully them around.

    When doing business in a country the rules of the country must be followed or else.

    The USA doesn't set or enforce the rules in China.

     

    On the other hand this just confirms my previous decision not to travel in China.

    I have gone to HK and a web Email I sent to Au from the hotel lobby computer there was diverted and not received.

    I know it was sent, because a BCC copy to the Email web site, my carriers in CDA, was received.

    That diverted Email had the receiving site altered to a "bucket" somewhere else?

    With all the travel around the world by China citizens, I find it very out of date for China to play such communication games.

  • Reply 16 of 68
    joshajosha Posts: 901member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by mubaili View Post



    Not sure what can Apple do here other than follow the Chinese law. Follow the law first and then lobby and have discussions with the authorities. Other than a direct disobedience from Chinese citizens there isn't much any company can do, whether it is Google, Apple, or Microsoft. It is very sad.

    I find many China citizens I meet here in CDA know how to get around China's out of date attempt at isolation.

  • Reply 17 of 68
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    idrey wrote: »
    So you are saying that when people come to your house
    They can do as as they wish, with out boundaries? They can
    Ignor your rules completely?

    So you think it's just fine then for a private businesses to discriminate and only serve certain people. After all it's that businesses house right?
  • Reply 18 of 68
    joshajosha Posts: 901member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by taosbob View Post



    In sum, in China certain sites involving data from abroad are unavailable to users, and we decry it as "censorship", while the blocking of dozens, if not hundreds of U.S. media sites from transmitting to, say, Canada is blandly accepted as normal and appropriate.

    So true and the same happens in the UK, some outside of the UK sites can be blocked.

  • Reply 19 of 68
    wdowellwdowell Posts: 213member
    So not much different to trying to a bunch of services on Apple TV on Europe then?

    We hadn't a clue why it's blocked - may be nothing to do with censorship. could be a technical or commercial thing.
  • Reply 20 of 68
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    There's a difference between restricting things due to broadcast rights/licensing and restricting things due to the government wanting to censor what their citizens see. I can't watch every baseball game on TV unless I have an MLB subscription. Same with the NFL. Is that really censorship? I don't think so.
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