U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and Patrick Leahy blast Apple CEO Tim Cook for removing VPN apps from App Store in China

U.S. Senator’s Ted Cruz (R, Texas) and Patrick Leahy (D, Vermont) have penned a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook regarding the removal of VPN apps from Apple’s App Store in China.

In July, Apple removed most major VPN apps from the App Store in China at the request of China’s MIIT (Ministry of Industry and Information Technology).

“Greater China is Apple’s largest market outside the United States. That has left the company more vulnerable than almost any other American technology firm to a Chinese campaign to ween itself off foreign technology and tighten control over foreign tech companies operating there,” Paul Mozur reported for The New York Times on July 29, 2017.

The Senators’ letter, verbatim:

United States Senate
WASHINGTON. DC 20510

October 17, 2017

Mr. Tim Cook
Chief Executive Officer
Apple Inc.
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014

Dear Mr, Cook:

We write to express our concern regarding a July 29, 2017, article in The New York Times reporting that Apple has removed Virtual Private Network (VPN) applications (“apps”) from the version of Apple’s App Store available to users in the People’s Republic of China. VPNs allow users to access the uncensored Internet in China and other countries that restrict Internet freedom. If these reports are true, we are concerned that Apple may be enabling the Chinese government’s censorship and surveillance of the Internet.

As you know, China has an abysmal human rights record, including with reSpect to the rights to free expression and free access to information, both online and offline. Reporters Without Borders has referred to China as the “enemy of the Internet.” (1) Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world, has consistently ranked China as the worst abuser of Internet freedom.

According to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, in 2016, China has “further entrenched institutional oversight and regulatory mechanisms to control Internet governance in China” and continued to “prosecute citizens for exercising their right to freedom of speech.” (2) In a 2016 report, Freedom House states that the Chinese government’s “crackdown on free expression under President Xi Jinping‘s “information security“ policy is taking its toll on the digital activists who have traditionally fought back against censorship and surveillance.” Radio Free Asia further reports that some users belonging to minority religious groups have been imprisoned or beaten simply for watching or having religious videos on their mobile phones. (3) And within just the past two months, the Cyberspace Administration of China has issued four-regulations which would allow the Ministry of Public Security to essentially eliminate online anonymity in China. (4)

Earlier this year you received the Newseum’s 2017 Free Expression Award, which recognizes those who exhibit passion for and dedication to free expression. In your acceptance speech, you stated:

“First we defend, we work to defend these freedoms by enabling people around the world to speak up. And second, we do it by Speaking up ourselves. Because companies can, and should have values… At Apple we are not just enabling others to speak up, we are doing so ourselves.” (5)

While Apple’s many contributions to the global exchange of information are admirable, removing VPN apps that allow individuals in China to “evade the Great Firewall and access the Internet privately does not enable people in China to ‘speak up. To the contrary, if Appie complies with such demands from the Chinese government it inhibits free expression for users across China, particularly in light of the Cyberspace Administration of China’s new. regulations targeting online anonymity.

Unfortunately, the removal of VPN apps is not the only time; that Apple ‘has reportedly acceded to ‘a request from the Chinese government involving censorship, at the expense of Internet freedom. On December 23″, 20-16,.Apple reportedly removed The New York Times app from its China App Store at the request of Chinese authorities.“ In addition, prior to the removal of The New York Times app, Apple also reportedly shut down its own iBooks Store and iTunes Movies in China at the request of Chinese authorities?

The threat that the Great Firewall. poses to the freedom of the people of China is similar to the threat that the Berlin Wall imposed on the people of East Berlin for twenty-eight years. As long as the Great Firewall operates and is enabled by American technology companies, Internet freedom in China will remain at risk.

In order to gain a better understanding of this situation, we request that you provide a response to the following questions as soon as possible:

1. On June 24, 2015, at its 15th meeting, the Standing Committee of the 12th National People’s Congress had its first reading of the draft “People’s Republic of China Cybersecurity Law.” The National People’s Congress opened a period of public comments until August 5, 2015. Did Apple provide any formal comments raising concerns with the People’s Republic of China Cybersecurity Law?

2. On November 24, 2016, China’s Ministry of industry and Information Technology published a draft Notice on Regulating the Operation Behaviors in the Could Service Market and further promulgated the Circular on Clearing up and Regulating the Internet Access Service Marker (“Circular 32”), which went into effect on January 17, 2017. Did Apple provide any formal comments raising concerns with Circular 32?

3. Did Chinese authorities issue a request for Apple to remove VPN apps from Apple’s China App Store? If yes, please describe the request and whether Apple took any action to oppose or object to the request.

4. Has Apple made any formal requests with the Chinese government to reintroduce VPN apps to its China App Store?

5. Please provide the total number of apps that Apple has removed from its China App Store at the request of Chinese authorities.

6. Please provide the total number of apps that Apple has removed from its China App Store without a request from Chinese authorities.

7. When you received the Newseum’s 2017 Free Expression Award you stated, “At Apple we are not just enabling others to speak up, we are doing so ourselves.” Please provide copies of any statements that Apple has issued either promoting freedom of speech in China or condemning the Chinese government’s censorship and surveillance mechanisms, including with respect to human rights defenders, Tibetans, and Uyghurs.

10. [sic] Since 2014, the Chinese government has held a World Internet Conference. Charles Smith, the co-founder of the non—profit censorship monitoring website GreatFire, described foreign guests of the Conference as “complicit actors in the Chinese censorship regime and are lending legitimacy to Lu Wei, the Cyberspace Administration of China and their heavy-handed approach to Internet governance. They are, in effect, helping to put all Chinese who stand for their constitutional right to free speech behind bars.” What role, if any, has Apple or its employees had with respect to the World Internet Conference in China? Does Apple support the conference?

Thank you for your assistance. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,
Ted Cruz, United States Senator
Patrick Leahy, United States Senator

(1) Reporters Without Borders, REF Calls for boycott of China’s World Internet Conference, 11 Dec. 2015.

(2) Congressional-Executive Commission on China, 2016 Annual Report.

(3) Eg, Radio Free Asia, “Tibetan Monk Detained Over Banned Cell-Phone Content,” March 6, 2014; and Radio Free Asia, “Uyghur Teenager Serving Life Sentence Is Victim of China’s Strike Hard Campaign: Father,” Nov. 16, 2015, .

(4) Sacks, Samm and Paul Triolo, “Shrinking Anonymity in Chinese Cyberspace,” Lawfare, 25 Sept. 2017.

(5) Miller, Chance, “Tim Cook Accepts Free Expression Award, Talks Value of Free Speech & Resisting ‘Alternative Facts,’” 9T05Mac; 18 Apr. 2017.

(6) Benner, Katie, and Sui-Lee Wee, “Apple Removes New York Times Apps From Its Store in China,” 4 Jan. 2017.

(7) Mozur, Paul, and Jane Perlez, “Apple Services Shut Down in China in Startling About-Face,” 21 Apr. 2016.

Direct link to the letter to Apple CEO Tm Cook from Senators Cruz and Leahy here.

MacDailyNews Take: In July, Apple released a statement regarding the removal of the VPN apps from their App Store in China:

Earlier this year China’s MIIT [Ministry of Industry and Information Technology] announced that all developers offering VPNs must obtain a license from the government. We have been required to remove some VPN apps in China that do not meet the new regulations. These apps remain available in all other markets where they do business. — Apple Inc.

The Internet treats censorship as a malfunction and routes around it. — John Perry Barlow

SEE ALSO:
Apple issues statement regarding removal of VPN apps from China App Store – July 31, 2017
Apple removes VPN apps from China App Store – July 29, 2017
Apple sets up China data center to meet new cybersecurity rules – July 12, 2017
Analyst: China iPhone sales are pivotal for Apple – June 26, 2017
In bid to improve censorship, China to summon Apple execs to discuss stricter App Store oversight – April 20, 2017
Will Apple CEO Tim Cook stand up to China over App Store censorship? – April 19, 2017
Beijing cyber regulators to summon Apple over live streaming apps – April 19, 2017
Apple goes on charm offensive in China with red iPhones and a visit by CEO Tim Cook – March 24, 2017
Apple CEO Tim Cook defends globalization, walks tightrope on privacy in rare public speech in China – March 18, 2017
Apple to spend $507 million to set up two more research centers, boost investment in in China – March 17, 2017
Apple removes New York Times apps from App Store in China at behest of Chinese government – January 4, 2017
China dethrones U.S. to become the largest market in the world for iOS App Store revenue – October 20, 2016
Apple to set up second R&D center in China – October 12, 2016
Apple’s first R&D Center in China will develop hardware, employ 500 – September 29, 2016
Apple CEO Cook ‘pretty confident’ of soon resuming movie and book sales in China – May 3, 2016
Apple’s biggest China problem: iPhone’s strong encryption – May 2, 2016
The New Yorker: What Apple has to fear from China – April 30, 2016
Carl Icahn out of Apple over worries about China’s ‘dictatorship’ government – April 29, 2016
China could slam door on Apple, says top global risk expert – April 25, 2016
China’s increasing censorship hits Apple, but Apple might punch back – April 22, 2016
China shutters Apple’s online book and movie services – April 22, 2016
Apple CEO Tim Cook joins Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights’ board of directors – April 6, 2016

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66 Comments

      1. MDN, your app has become almost unusable on iPhone due to auto-launching ads. It makes for a shit-tastic experience. Understand you want to make revenue but the user experience is atrocious. Please, please fix. Thank you.

      2. why Apple would firmly want to concede to the wishes of a govt that’s quarantines its people from freedom and information (for business sake), but wants to parade it’s SJW convictions in a country where such a freedom is allowed (risking business, because freedom allows). I know it’s not a one-to-one comparison, but there is clearly contradictory/hypocritical logic involved. Using Apple as his mouth-piece, deters my AAPL investor commitment. V long in Apple, btw.

        1. Well the pessimist in me says it’s highly hypocritical of Apple. The optimist says they do the best they can given the cards they are dealt. Being in China (and other repressive countries) perhaps allows them to slowly chip away at a repressive govt. and at times there will be setbacks. Better to be in China for a variety of reasons than not perhaps?

        2. @It Causes Me To Question – China does what you claimed, no doubt. It’s about the $$! However, using your own reason and words consider this…. Apple concedes to the wishes of the Chinese government who quarantines its people from freedom and information. The American comparison – Apple concedes to the wishes of the USG who allows its people to be quarantined from the truth by allowing them to be subject to algorithms that display information/search results carefully stewed to Google’s political liking and suppresses information that goes against the status quo or simply corporate blessed fake news. Google and YouTube have openly admitted to doing this. Why, because they’re in bed with their rich uncle! What a relationship, huh? Different ways to quarantine – China’s way by simple old fashioned quarantining and the American way by deflection and redirection to information they want you to have that one of their corporations has blessed off on. When you do the math it comes out the same…..it’s all about maintaining the status quo and suppression of truth of which both governments are equally guilty of violating.

    1. If Apple sucks, then Cruz and Leahy suck even more.

      First, this official letter from senior U.S. government representatives contains far too many typos. Disgraceful.

      Second, the letter contains erroneous or misleading statements. For instance, Apple did remove *some* of the VPN apps, but not all of them (as you might infer from the letter). In addition, VPN apps provide an encrypted channel between the host device and the internet, but they do not inherently “…allow users to access the uncensored Internet in China and other countries that restrict Internet freedom.” Anonymity and a secure channel are certainly critical factors, but they do not magically break through the “Great Firewall.”

      Third, what has Congress or the Administration done with respect to these issues. It is not the responsibility of a corporation, even a huge multi-national corporation such as Apple, to change the laws in other countries. Apple can and has provided recommendations and criticisms when U.S. or foreign laws impede business and adversely impact human rights and privacy. But I would submit to Senators Cruz and Leahy that they get off of their pontificating and bloviating asses and do their jobs. Cruz is a holier-than-thou sack of evil.

      1. Further, this is the same US Gov’t whose Justice Department and FBI have been suing apple to weaken or otherwise backdoor the encryption on their phones.

        Funny how removing VPNs (literally encrypted communications) in China is enabling censorship and surveillance even though it’s following China’s laws, but somehow when they refuse to the the exact thing here (because it’s not against this country’s laws) it’s enabling terrorism.

        To my mind this is little more than Ted trying to remain relevant enough to make another presidential bid in 2020.

  1. Yes, Apple obeys the law in countries where it operates. For example, it does not allow apps that violate US laws concerning pornography. Would the Senators prefer that Apple employees go to jail or would they rather the company just go out of business?

    We have no way of knowing what Apple is doing behind the scenes. China is not a place where public protests are effective. The Senators are trying to force Apple into a public confrontation that will harm the company and won’t help anybody.

        1. Ask any Chinese teenager how to get around government proscriptions against various websites …and they will tell you how to get around the ban…

        2. Correct. The Chinse government is the censor, not the suppliers of those products. In Apple’s case however…they control the singular store!

          Censorship BAD! Regardless of who does it.

          MS can simple wipe their hands of the matter, they don’t control what runs on PCs at all. Same for the Mac and Linux. Android users have alternate marketplaces available to them, as well as sideloading.

          1. Jailbreaking is as possible on iOS as sideloading on Android. Apple just doesn’t facilitate it or support it under warranty.

            Apple could make it possible for users to download unvetted apps from whatever source they chose, but that would punch a hole through security. It is the same problem as allowing immediate access in response to a court order while continuing to block any other access without owner consent.

            1. I don’t consider having to jailbreak, and play cat and mouse with Apple an acceptable solution.

              Sideloading is acceptable and not mandatory. One would choose to do so.

              Apple’s only obligation under these circumstances, should trouble arise, would be a factory reset. Done!

            2. My point is that it is already possible for a tech-savvy user who understands the risks to sidestep the App Store. That does not suggest that hundreds of millions of ordinary iPhone users should be exposed to phishing attacks and other hacks.

      1. Google does not have an App Store in China.
        All the Android phones in China download apps from third party stores.
        That’s why 90% of all android malware infections are in China.

          1. No, Google was banished from China in favor of the Chinese version of Android. . . that is why they don’t play there. There are 3rd party app stores for iOS apps also.

            1. Is banished the proper word? They chose not to comply, perhaps for selfish reasons, then they were banished.

              There are 3rd party iOS app stores in China? Without jailbreaking? Then I want the same here in the US. Why are we censored? (see the irony?) Anyway, thanks for the info.

        1. “Do no evil” notwithstanding, Google did not choose not to do business in China. It operated there for years, fully cooperating with government censorship of its search results, arguing that flawed access to the World Wide Web was better than no access at all. Really no difference at all from the way that Apple obeys local laws.

          More recently, they moved all their operations from the Mainland to Hong Kong, but that was not motivated by high moral principle, either. Four factors:

          1) Not only did the Chinese Government officially block Google sites outside the country entirely, but they also blocked Google.cn on an unpredictable but not uncommon basis. That, on top of the obvious censorship, drove users to more reliable alternatives like Baidu.

          2) Because the government had access to all the data going in and out of Google’s mainland servers, Google lacked the exclusivity of access to that data that sustains their business model. Competitors owned by, or friendly to, the PRC and People’s Liberation Army were able to monetize the information Google was collecting.

          3) Google and Google China were the target of oft-repeated unofficial cyberattacks in addition to the official harassment. Those attacks were at least tolerated by the PRC but more likely sponsored by it. The hostile environment eventually made it more trouble to continue operating in China than the benefits were worth.

          4) Which brings us to the question of benefits (i.e. profits). Before Google.cn moved to Hong Kong, it had less than a 10% share of the Chinese search market. It now has about 1.7%.

      2. In fact, the other app stores in China were required to remove unlicensed VPN applications. They just were not attacked in the press for doing so. Apple is always the poster child for such attacks.

      1. I think you misunderstood. Nobody is conflating / equating anything here. The point is very simple, and I have a feeling you understand it quite well, but it doesn’t jibe with your political affiliation.

        When Apple has an official business presence, they operate according to the laws of that land. Alternative is to simply close up shop.

        The two senators expressing their concern sound quite hypocritical, though. They have no problem using computers manufactured in China (HP is still made there), just to begin with (literally 90% of everything American people come in touch with is made in China), yet their problem is when Apple pulls apps that violate Chinese laws.

        Apparently, Apple is the ONLY American company that is expected to stand up to China for their human rights record. No other US company will be asked to do that, and all others are free to do business with China as they please.

        I suppose there is a price to pay when you are the top dog…

        1. FOR SALE: CHEAP
          Pristine assortment of Glass Ceiling fireworks. Will trade for liquor. Contact: Felonia von Pantsuit, 666 Falling Down Parkway, Chappaqua, New York.

          (serious inquiries only.)

    1. Apple obeys the laws of the country in which it operates. As I posted before, Apple ranks profits over principles. Kinda hard for Tim Cook et al to preach social morality while cozing up with tyrants and dictators. Better Tim Cook et al just shut their mouths and simply talk about market share.

  2. This is problem which is increasingly going to affect international tech companies.

    A technology which is perfectly legal in one country can be deemed illegal in another. If a company needs to operate within a given country, it has to operate within the laws of that country, which may run counter to the preferences and ethos of that company.

    The choice is either to comply with local laws or stop operating in that country.

    There may come a time when Apple has to make comparable choices within America if certain politicians are able to pass legislation banning unbreakable encryption.

    1. China is just now starting to flex its muscles. Give them one more generation and citizens of the USA will be begging for chinese corporations to come in, buy up everything, and give the poor indebted Americans some minimum wage jobs. US corporate leaders sold out any national pride and concern for local quality of like a generation ago. Apple is maximizing profits, not attempting to support the democratic ideals of the USA or promote an equal playing field. Corporaticracy has won. In case you haven’t been paying attention, prez “dealmaker” has no deals and has the gall to ask US taxpayers to pay for an isolationist Great Wall after promising that Mexico would pay for it. He just takes his orders from Koch and other special interests, like all corporate puppets. He certainly doesn’t have the empathy or long term thinking ability to serve the people. Deflect, lie, golf, tweet, TV, repeat.

      The rise of populism will drive a period of balkanized small states squabbling and unable to agree on anything. Meanwhile China, the largest single market, sets norms around the world and money grubbing unelected corporations dance to the Beijing beat. Apple included, profit before principle.

      Unless large democratic nations get their act together, the inefficiencies of local currency, local language, local laws, and partisan destruction of democratic processes will drive the west back into the Dark Ages. Corporations chase profit consolidation in the hands of their own little club, not widespread health and prosperity. Just like the Chinese party. All the western states have nothing to offer but more corporate pandering, just look at Amazon’s recent real estate shopping. It will get worse before it gets better with the clowns that are fumbling around in office in the UK and USA and other smaller former democratic states.

  3. Funny how our government officials can rally to the Chinese ability to access a free Internet while at the same time attempt to access out personal information (and invade our personal rights) and tear down encryption walls that are vital for many reasons.

  4. botvinnik, it appears that your viewpoint is not shared by most of the people on this forum. Once again.

    In America, you are free to develop and express your own ideas and opinions. But the rest of us do not have to share them. Most of us don’t…

      1. I’m all for J Madison’s voice in context to today’s happenings. Do I hear a yea for Tom Jefferson too? After all, the Constitution’s has a few naysayers these days.

  5. The point even the article misses is that Apple deleted the VPN apps that did not have required licenses. They did not delete the ones with the approved licenses.

    1. Gee, whiz, multinational corporations can make bigger profits for their shareholders and employees under globalism than under economic isolationism. What a shock! Next thing you know, somebody might define “humanity” to include Apple shareholders, employees, and customers outside the United States.

      1. Gee, whiz, your usual vapid, twisted sophistry. No one is opposing fair international trade, that’s been going on since the Spice Routes and The Silk Road…Sovereignty is opposition to a global governance of unelected bureaucrats and bankers (like the tyrannical EU) at the cost of national identity, immigration & border control and most important, in America’s case, The Bill of Rights.

        That is precisely what “America First” means.

        1. Once again, you do not know what you are talking about. European states voted to form the EU the same way individual states voted to form the United States of America. The EU was not formed by unelected bureaucrats and bankers. It seems you are all for democracy as a historical concept in the US but can’t stand modern US democracy or democracy in Europe.

          If you know your history, European states shared a long, common history for most of the past 800 years or so. One historian pointed out (before the EU was formed) that it would be surprising if European states did NOT unify, given their long collective history.

          The loss of national identity that you lament has less to do with political organizational structure and more to do with cheap and ubiquitous modern telecommunication and travel. The fact that the world’s population, including the populations of most democracies, has exploded in the past 100 years or so. And the failure of public and private education to provide ignorant masses with the basic tools of critical thinking necessary to provide the underpinnings of functional democratic government.

          Maybe China’s control of the internet is superior to the US’s mantra of “open”. The US internet appears to be “open in all the wrong ways”, like Android. Because it appears the US has left the gates of the fortress open and susceptible to corruption of our democratic voting process by those wishing to undermine it, like Russia.

            1. Another deep and thoughtful statement. Not!
              You must be so proud of yourself.
              A legend …in your own mind.

            2. Have you ever been to Europe? Have you ever lived there? Do you speak any European languages, by any chance? Or admire any European cultures? Do you have any friends or close business ties who are European?

  6. Funny how everyone bitches about a VPN in China… maybe the Chinese should write a letter to the congress about our government taking away health care…

    Just a thought…

      1. You claim liberals are loose with their own money while conservatards (your choice of incendiary discourse, not mine) are savvy at tax avoidance, then It is those liberals disproportionately filling the government treasury. If you bothered to look at the facts, those rich urban globalists you so despise also fund the services and gubmint relief of all the bright red conservatard small towns that are dying because they yearn for the good old days instead of liberally educating themselves, liberally investing in the community, and liberally taking care of each other. The corporations you worship are the ones slashing coal and manufacturing jobs You know, it’s the liberals repurposing empty warehouses and creating new startup ventures while bitter old whiners like you pine for the old days when any high school dropout could get a factory job. Think.

        Anyone with half a brain can see that the most profitable businesses and the most vibrant cities lean at least partially left.

        1. Reality: The democrats have been reduced to a coastal lunatic fringe party. By 2020, they will be virtually extinct. A democrat will never occupy the White House again…

          ever.

          …and all the MSM lies and all the Soros billions cannot save you.

          1. :::BREAKING NEWS:::
            CNN reports that a democrat has won a school board seat in Elmira, New York…Chris Matthews gets another tingle up his leg.

            TRUMP IS DOOMED!

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