Thursday, January 5, 2017

Apple Removes New York Times Apps From Chinese App Store

Katie Benner and Sui-Lee Wee (tweet, Hacker News, MacRumors):

Apple, complying with what it said was a request from Chinese authorities, removed news apps created by The New York Times from its app store in China late last month.

The move limits access to one of the few remaining channels for readers in mainland China to read The Times without resorting to special software. The government began blocking The Times’s websites in 2012, after a series of articles on the wealth amassed by the family of Wen Jiabao, who was then prime minister, but it had struggled in recent months to prevent readers from using the Chinese-language app.


Apple has previously removed other, less prominent media apps from its China store. It is unclear how the company evaluates requests from Beijing to take down apps and whether it ever resists them.


When the Chinese government began blocking the Times websites in 2012, it also prevented users with Times apps from downloading new content.

But readers in China can still gain access to The Times using software that circumvents the government’s firewall. And in July 2015, The Times released a new version of its Chinese-language app that adopted a different method for retrieving articles, one that the government appeared unable to stop.

So the app would still work if only people were able to get it. But Apple doesn’t allow iOS users to download and install apps directly; you have to go through the App Store.

Update (2017-01-06): John Gruber:

I don’t think Apple had any choice here, other than pulling out of China.

And given that The Times’s website has been blocked in China since 2012, the closed, proprietary App Store has given Chinese readers four years of access to The Times that they couldn’t get over the open web.

Update (2017-01-11): See also: The Talk Show.

Update (2017-01-22): Farhad Manjoo:

In the last few weeks, the Chinese government compelled Apple to remove New York Times apps from the Chinese version of the App Store. Then the Russian government had Apple and Google pull the app for LinkedIn, the professional social network, after the network declined to relocate its data on Russian citizens to servers in that country. Finally, last week, a Chinese regulator asked app stores operating in the country to register with the government, an apparent precursor to wider restrictions on app marketplaces.


But that’s not the end of this story. The banning of apps highlights a deeper flaw in our modern communications architecture: It’s the centralization of information, stupid.

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