Apple removes Pocket Casts from the Chinese app store under government pressure

In its latest censorship move for China, Apple has taken down podcast app Pocket Casts from the Chinese App Store. Pocket Casts, in a series of tweets, claimed that Apple acted at the behest of a request from the Cyberspace Administration of China, the local regulatory watchdog that oversees the information available on the internet in the country.

Pocket Casts adds that it was “contacted by the CAC through Apple around 2 days before the app was removed from the store” and that it won’t comply with any censorship orders from the Chinese authorities to return to the country’s App Store.

In a Twitter reply, Pocket Casts wrote that it wasn’t provided any specifics even after it asked for clarification. The only reason offered by Apple was that it includes “content that is illegal in China as determined by the CAC”.

Pocket Casts told Digital Trends that it was “given very little notice of this removal (only 2 days)” and asked by Apple to “contact the CAC for more information.”

Incidentally, the pandemic simulator app, Plague Inc. was booted off the Chinese app store earlier this year on these exact grounds too.

“We believe podcasting is and should remain an open medium, free of government censorship,” the developers wrote in a tweet. Pocket Casts says it won’t be backtracking on its decision to return to the Chinese App Store since “it’s a necessary step to take for any company that values the open distribution model that makes podcasting special.”

At the time of writing, Apple hadn’t released a public statement or responded to a request for comment sent by Digital Trends.

Shortly after Pocket Casts was pulled from the App Store, another podcast app, Castro Podcasts was taken down in China as well. The team behind Castro Podcasts said it wasn’t offered any specifics by Apple and suspects it was likely because of its “support of the protests in the Discover tab.” In a tweet, Castro Podcasts claimed the Chinese market represented 10% of its total base but a “much smaller percent” of its paid subscriber base.

Pocket Casts confirmed that it’s in touch with Castro but at this stage, they aren’t “working together beyond that.”

“No specifics were requested, we were just linked to cac.gov.cn, which has no apparent version written in English and told we had illegal content up in China,” said general manager Jesse Herlitz, in a statement emailed to Digital Trends.

On several occasions in the past, Apple has stepped over the lines of freedom of speech and conformed to China’s censorship requests. In October 2019, the company took down the news app Quartz as it was actively covering the Hong Kong protests. Both the Quartz app and website to date are still not available in China.

A month later, Apple also removed HKmap.live, a crowdsourced mapping app that was being employed by Hong Kong protesters to flag the live locations of police and street closures. In a statement, Apple CEO, Tim Cook defended the takedown by arguing the app was being “used in ways that endanger law enforcement and residents in Hong Kong.” “The app displays police locations and we have verified with the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau that the app has been used to target and ambush police, threaten public safety, and criminals have used it to victimize residents in areas where they know there is no law enforcement,” he added.

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