Apple has deactivated its News app in China, the company’s second largest source of revenue. While Apple has not officially commented on the matter, it appears to be another instance of kowtowing to the country’s censorship policies.
The News app’s dysfunctional behavior in China was observed by Larry Salibra, founder and CEO of a crowdsourced pay-per-bug software testing platform called Pay4Bugs. In a blog post titled “How Apple Censors News in China,” he goes into detail about encountering a hampered News app while on a short trip to mainland China.
Even though Salibra, who lives in Hong Kong, was using uncensored roaming Internet access in China, he saw this message when he opened the Apple News app: “Can’t refresh right now. News isn’t supported in your current region.”
Salibra found that the News app worked normally when he was in Hong Kong connected to a Hong Kong network. But when he was in Hong Kong connected to a China network, the error message appeared. When he crossed a bridge into mainland China and connected to a China network, the error message appeared despite being assigned a Hong Kong IP address.
While standing in China, Salibra walked to the edge of a river dividing Hong Kong and mainland China and manually connected to a Hong Kong network. The News app worked normally in this scenario.
“At this point, it was pretty obvious that Apple isn’t using location tracking and geofencing to shut down the News App, but is doing so based on the mobile network the phone connected,” Salibra wrote in his blog post. He notes that Apple uses this approach to disable Apple Maps and enable a Beijing-approved maps service.
The big concern here is that Apple uses a user’s real-time cell network to make changes to a device even if location services are disabled in their privacy settings, Salibra concludes.
Beijing puts the onus on companies to censor sensitive content within its borders, according to The New York Times. Apple appears to have opted for a blanket approach rather than creating a more nuanced censorship structure.
Salibra notes that when Apple Music launched in China, the 24-hour, live station Beats 1 was left out of the app.