Apple is aligning itself more closely with the Chinese government as the tech company’s share in the world’s largest smartphone market slips to local competition and it becomes more reliant on pushing services that require the government’s approval.
According to a new report from Reuters, “A flurry of recent action by Cupertino-based Apple underlines its push to get on the right side of China’s notoriously tough tech regulators, as it looks to revive sales there.”
Over the weekend Apple removed dozens of virtual private network (VPN) apps from its Chinese app store, depriving many users of tools that are critical to jumping the country’s “Great Firewall.” The move marked a major capitulation to China’s censorship regime, and follows similar requests to block various apps and content in the country.
“Because others have eaten away at Apple’s market share in China, it now has to pay more attention to regulation from government,” said Beijing-based tech analyst Li Chengdong. “China is such a key market for Apple that it has to listen.”
China has in recent months strengthened its massive internet censorship apparatus, which is often referred to as the “Great Firewall.” It has partially blocked popular messaging apps like WhatsApp and stepped up its censorship of images deemed politically sensitive.
Apple CEO Tim Cook recently defended the Cupertino company’s move to comply with the Chinese government in the decision to remove several virtual private network (VPN) apps from the China App Store. Although he stated that he would rather not have removed the apps, he believes in “engaging with governments even when we disagree.”
“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.
Apple’s move to work with Beijing is no doubt a response in the company’s slipping grasp in the world’s largest smartphone market.
“When it unveiled quarterly earnings on Tuesday, revenue from the Greater China region fell 9.5 percent to $8 billion,” reads the report. “Its once coveted iPhone has slipped into fifth position behind offerings from local rivals Huawei, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi, analysts said.”
While China is indeed tightening cyberspace regulation, Apple has been making quick moves to comply with the government, likely in a sign of “friendship” and support. While Apple’s “moves to appease Chinese censors may prompt criticism outside China, the firm will hope that local consumers are rather less fazed.”
“It’s normal that Apple wants to get along well with the Chinese government,” said Wang Siyue, 27, a marketing professional in Shanghai, who is a long-term iPhone user.
“I will buy the next generation [iPhone] when it comes out. I’m just used to it,” Wang said, adding she doesn’t use VPN much, and Apple’s move to take down the app wouldn’t impact her decision to buy a new iPhone.