Dancing around the Great Firewall of China

It seems a little unfair to give Apple heat over its China policies, given how much employment it creates in China, but apparently Apple have censored a Chinese firewall avoiding-app:

Chinese web users have criticised Apple after the company pulled an iPhone app which enabled users to bypass firewalls and access restricted internet sites. The developers of the free app, OpenDoor, reportedly wrote to Apple protesting against the move. [...] Apple asks iPhone app developers to ensure that their apps "comply with all legal requirements in any location where they are made available to users".
Aha. But the problem here is: China does not acknowledge the existence of the Great Firewall of China (GFW). In fact, any mention of it in a blog post or other social media is enough to get that posting censored. China certainly has strong legal requirements about being able to identify the real person behind an Internet identity on a China-hosted service and foreign firms having to "partner" with a local firm for Internet "compliance", and it freely blocks traffic going outside China (via the GFW) which could retrieve user-generated content relating to sensitive topics, but from a legal perspective the GFW itself cannot be the subject of a legal violation since the GFW does not officially exist because you can't talk about it (and the GFW will censor your traffic if you try to do this across the border). Is your head hurting yet?

This, by the way, is perfectly pragmatic behaviour from Apple. They like being able to do business in China, so it's not enough to satisfy the letter of the law - they want to keep the Chinese government happy. As such, dropping GFW-circumventing apps from the App Store makes perfect business sense. It is, however, particularly weasel-like for them to hide behind "legal requirements", or avoid the topic all together. If they want to play ball with the Chinese government for commercial reasons - and it's their fiduciary duty to improve their commercial prospects - why can't they just say so? (Yes, this is a rhetorical question.)

The OpenDoor app developers purport to be bemused:

"It is unclear to us how a simple browser app could include illegal contents, since it's the user's own choosing of what websites to view," the email says.
"Using the same definition, wouldn't all browser apps, including Apple's own Safari and Google's Chrome, include illegal contents?"
Yes they could, in theory. But browsers use well-known protocols: HTTP, which is clear text, and which the GFW can scan for illegal content like "T1ANANM3N []"; HTTPS, which is secure but can be blocked either based on destination IP or just universally. OpenDoor probably (I haven't looked) does something sneaky to make its traffic look like regular HTTP with innocuous content. The GFW could, with some work, drop OpenDoor traffic based on its characteristics and/or destinations, but they would always be playing catch-up. Instead, Apple "voluntarily" (we don't know if any Chinese government pressure was formally applied) drops it from the App Store in China. Everyone's happy! No-one gets any distressing news about human rights abuses in China, and gatherings of subversives are prevented.

Apple are bending over to help the Chinese government, and that's perfectly acceptable in a capitalist society - let's just be clear that it's voluntary, and in search of profits.

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