FCC Commissioner Criticizes Apple CEO Tim Cook Over App Store Censorship in China

FCC Commissioner Criticizes Apple CEO Tim Cook Over App Store Censorship in China
Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during the opening ceremony of the 4th World Internet Conference in Wuzhen in eastern China's Zhejiang Province on Dec. 3, 2017. (AFP via Getty Images)
Frank Fang

A Federal Communications Commission (FCC) commissioner has accused Apple CEO Tim Cook of hypocrisy, arguing that his company’s dealings with the Chinese communist regime contradict his words about commitment to human rights.

“I am concerned that your words in Washington founder upon the harsh reality of your actions in China,” Brendan Carr, the FCC’s senior Republican, wrote in a letter to Cook dated April 20.
Carr was referring to Cook’s keynote speech at the 2022 International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) Global Privacy Summit on April 12. During his speech, Cook spoke about how “privacy is a fundamental human right” and touted Apple’s “commitment to protecting people from a data industrial complex built on a foundation of surveillance.”

“Indeed, at the very same time that you were speaking in D.C. about your App Store policies promoting privacy and human rights, your company was continuing its well-documented campaign in Beijing of aggressively censoring apps at the behest of the Communist Party of China,” Carr wrote.

According to Carr, Apple had done “the bidding of Communist China” by removing Quran and Bible apps, and the Voice of America (VOA) mobile app from its App Store in China. He described Apple’s decision to remove the VOA app, which is congressionally funded, as “deeply troubling.”

In October 2021, Apple Censorship, a website that tracks apps on Apple’s App Store globally, reported that two apps, Quran Majeed and Bible App by Olive Tree, had been taken down. Apple later told the BBC that Chinese officials had said the apps contained “illegal” religious texts.
“Apple’s decision to appease the Communist Party of China—an authoritarian regime that the State Department has determined is committing genocide and crimes against humanity—cannot be squared with your representation in Washington that Apple will ‘battle against an array of dangerous actors,’” Carr wrote.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) imposes strict control over its internet and its censors regularly scrub online content that is deemed unfavorable to the communist regime. Washington-based nonprofit Freedom House called China “the world’s worst abuser of Internet freedom” in its Freedom on the Net 2021 report.
The Voice of America building, in Washington on June 15, 2020. (Andrew Harnik/AP Photo)
The Voice of America building, in Washington on June 15, 2020. (Andrew Harnik/AP Photo)

The Chinese regime also blocks many foreign social media and news websites, including YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Voice of America.

Apple pulled the crowd-sourced app HKmap.live from its App Store in October 2019, at the height of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. The map app was popular among Hong Kong protesters to avoid direct confrontation with Hong Kong police, who have been heavily criticized for their violent handling of protesters and journalists.

Carr also criticized global corporations such as Apple for giving “all sorts of reasonable-sounding arguments” to justify their decisions to do business in China. He said these arguments “run headlong into real-world experience.”

In December 2021, The Information reported that Cook traveled to China in 2016, lobbied Chinese officials, and secured a secretive $275 billion deal with Beijing that involved more investments and working training in China from Apple, citing internal Apple documents. The five-year deal was made to “quash a sudden burst of [Chinese] regulatory actions against Apple’s business.”
“China is not becoming more open or bending towards freedom because Apple is doing business there. Far from it,” Carr wrote. “Look at Hong Hong. Look at Xinjiang.

“Continuing to partner with brutal regimes like Communist China only provides them with tacit—if not explicit—support and emboldens those bad actors.”

Carr concluded his letter by asking Cook to answer a question by April 29 this year.

“Will Apple allow access to the Voice of America mobile app through its App Store in China, consistent with the fundamental human rights that you articulated in your speech,” Carr asked.

Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.), who reposted Carr’s letter, said she looks forward to hearing what Apple has to say about Voice of America.

“Big Tech companies like Apple love to profess one set of values to elitist crowds in the U.S., but when push comes to shove, they’re quick to kowtow to the Chinese Communist Party,” she wrote.

Apple officials didn’t respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.