Chinese Apple customers looking to download the New York Times app through the tech giant's App Store are out of luck, as the company has pulled the news app at the request of the Chinese government. The New York Times reports that the removal came just as the Times was gearing up to publish a detailed investigative report into the Chinese government's massive subsidies to Foxconn — the company that manufactures iPhones in China.
The removal went into effect on December 23, and prevented anyone in mainland China from downloading the app from that point on. Both the English language and Chinese language versions were removed. Those who already had the app on their phone will still be able to access the content, but will be unable to get updates.
Apple officials are remaining mostly mum on the decision, only saying that they were told the app violated unspecified regulations. “For some time now the New York Times app has not been permitted to display content to most users in China and we have been informed that the app is in violation of local regulations,” Apple spokesman Fred Sainz told the Times. “As a result, the app must be taken down off the China App Store. When this situation changes, the App Store will once again offer the New York Times app for download in China."
Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times apps still remain available for download in China.
The New York Times website itself is blocked by Chinese censors, and the app had remained as one of the few ways to read the paper without using VPNs or Tor. “The request by the Chinese authorities to remove our apps is part of their wider attempt to prevent readers in China from accessing independent news coverage by The New York Times of that country, coverage which is no different from the journalism we do about every other country in the world,” Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy said in a statement.
Although unconfirmed, it is believed the order to pull the app came under the authority of the recently passed Provisions on the Administration of Mobile Internet Application Information Services. According to the 2016 Chinese regulations, apps cannot "engage in activities prohibited by laws and regulations such as endangering national security, disrupting social order and violating the legitimate rights and interests of others."
How the New York Times app might have specifically violated this rule is unclear, and Apple is not saying — a worrying sign for media outlets trying to do business in China.
This is not the first time that a Bay Area-based tech company has dabbled in censorship. In November, the Times reported that Facebook had developed a censorship tool — as a potential way to improve relations with the Chinese government — that would allow officials to prevent specific posts from showing up in users' feeds based on location data.