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Can Apple Escape Censorship And Control?

Big BrotherEven Apple, the company with 1-billion mostly satisfied customers, cannot escape the luring eyes of Big Brother. One of the biggest Brothers of all, the Chinese government, wants to regulate apps on Apple’s App Store.

Why? Power and control. If Russia can ban Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extreme and dangerous religion, and they did, China can tell Apple which apps are acceptable and which are not. For now, I see censorship in such autocratic countries as the tip of a growing iceberg. How will Apple fare in a world teeming with totalitarian governments that want to reduce citizen’s rights?

Walk Softly, Big Stick

What’s going on in China is what goes on in every country run by dictators. Control. Chinese internet regulators have found some popular apps on the iPhone App Store that could stream live video, including pornography, government abuse, and protests.

What will Apple do?

After all, most of the company’s products are manufactured in China, so Apple must walk softly, knowing that the big stick it carries must be wielded properly, appropriately, and just enough so that everyone involved remains aware of the dangers of too much censorship and too much control.

What’s the big stick? Apple employs tens of thousands of Chinese workers, as do manufacturers for Samsung and other technology device makers. Even the Chinese government does not want to disrupt that supply chain, as unemployed workers– should Apple and others be banned or leave for greener pastures– could become a political force that leaders do not want to awaken.

Yet, censorship exists and persists in China, and it’s a growing trend elsewhere in the world. Even the President of the U.S. has issued warnings that free speech should be curtailed.

Another issue that both Chinese regulators and government officials must contend with is Apple’s growing customer base. Tens of millions of Chinese own iPhones. What impact would they have in the political arena should Apple’s App Store be banned?

Politics and business are not strange bedfellows and this is not the first time that Chinese officials have summoned Apple executives to improve the government’s ability to censor its citizens. Apple insists that it follows all laws regarding content, but how Apple’s devices are used– and the apps that customers use– may run afoul of such self regulation.

In Russia, religious content has been banned. In China, the government forbids not just pornography and violence but also political speech that is not approved. iPhone apps that can stream live video circumvent the government’s controls. How will Apple respond? Can the company escape the clutches of Big Brother, or will Apple bend to ensure that manufacturing and the local revenue stream remain?

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