Conservatives concerned about Big Tech censorship often train their fire on three companies: Facebook, which operates two of the largest social media platforms in the world and multiple chat services, Twitter, perhaps the most influential social media platform in the United States, and Google, which monopolizes both search and user-generated video content.
And that’s fair. These three companies are indeed the worst offenders, especially when it comes to election interference and censorship of political viewpoint. But there is another Big Tech company that deserves scrutiny. While Apple may not operate a social media platform or a search engine, it maintains a stranglehold on two of the most important aspects of modern internet infrastructure: the smartphone, and with it, the app store.
There are effectively only two players in the app store space: Apple, and Google, which operates Google Play on its Android devices. Apple is notorious for exerting significant editorial control over the content in its app store, while Google tends to be more permissive. Google, for example, allows its Android users to download the Microsoft and Amazon app stores. Apple does not. Google also allows “sideloading” — the ability for a smartphone user to install an app not found in the smartphone’s native app store. Apple restricts this ability on its smartphones, citing security risks and privacy concerns.
These app stores are a major source of profit for both Apple and Google. According to one report, Apple brought in $54.2 billion in gross app store receipts in 2019, while Google brought in $29.3 billion. Until very recently, both companies took an across the board 30 percent cut from developers on all app store receipts, meaning Apple earned $16.2 billion and Google earned $8.8 billion in profit from their app stores in 2019.
Apple, the O.G. Big Tech Censor
While most Big Tech companies still claimed to champion American principles like free speech and free expression well into the last decade — then-Twitter CEO Dick Costello proudly called his platform the “global town square” in 2013 — Apple was headed down a dark path much earlier.
In 2010, Apple banned the Manhattan Declaration app from its app store, citing “objectionable material.” The Manhattan Declaration was a document written by Christian leaders to affirm support for life, marriage, and religious liberty. From the Washington Post:
After receiving thousands of complaints, Apple has quietly axed an iPhone app that linked to a conservative Christian manifesto called the Manhattan Declaration, issued a year ago and signed by nearly a half-million people.
Apple approved the app in October, rating it a 4+ - free from objectionable material. But this week, Apple changed its iTune. The app "violates our developer guidelines by being offensive to large groups of people," Natalie Kerris told CNN.
The anti-app campaign, led by Change.org, mustered 7,700 petitions to Apple founder Steve Jobs. Supporters criticized the app as promoting hate and homophobia.
"Despite the store rating the application 4+ . . . , I can assure you that the application does in fact contain lots of objectionable material," the petition said.
Anti-anti-app crusaders countered with their own petition, which they said had been signed by more than 37,000 people: "Despite the claims of some, the Declaration does not promote hate or homophobia. . . . Civil discourse is a hallmark of a civilized and free society. Disagreement is not hate."
Apple has consistently applied that standard as a justification to discriminate against a number of Christian apps. In 2018, Apple banned an app created by Living Hope Ministries after a left-wing activist petition garnered a grand total of 365 signatures. The app “proclaim(s) a Christ-centered, biblical world-view of sexual expression rooted in one man and one woman in a committed, monogamous, heterosexual marriage for life.”
Ricky Chelette, the executive director of Living Hope Ministries, explained his app: “All we do is teach a very orthodox view of biblical truth.” Nevertheless, Apple emphatically gave it the axe.
Apple doesn’t limit its app censorship solely to religious views it finds problematic — even scientists who dare to question the approved left-wing narrative on global warming by presenting facts and data have been targeted. In 2019, Apple banned an app called ‘Inconvenient Facts” developed by geologist and author Gregory Wrightstone. Although the app was initially approved for sale in February of that year, Apple inexplicably reversed the decision a month later. In a conversation with The Daily Signal, Wrightstone explained:
“It’s very rare for an app to be approved and then taken down unless there is offensive material or some other extreme issue. We thought at first it may have been our fault. But I did a search on climate change and global warming in the Apple App Store and pulled up a whole bevy of pro-man-made global warming apps that are really bad. They are not formatted, they have incorrect spellings and no links. But I suppose they have the political narrative right. Compared to these, our app is the gold standard. I made sure we had charts and links and references to the source for our data. This is all right in the palm of your hand…
“A key takeaway here is that Apple has a monopoly over iPhone apps and the Apple App Store is the only place to get them. It appears that Apple has chosen to weaponize its control over purchasing apps to stifle science that doesn’t conform to its politically correct notions.”
Apple Led the Attack on Parler
Parler, an upstart social media platform that advertises itself as a champion for free speech, came under attack by left-wing activists and journalists after the January 6th Capitol riots for allegedly acting as a gathering ground for the rioters. As Rachel Bovard pointed out in The Federalist, there’s more evidence that Facebook played that role. But hey, feelings don’t care about your facts!
Apple has removed Parler from the App Store, following accusations that the social media app was fostering calls to violence ahead of, and following, the raid on the US Capitol.
“We have always supported diverse points of view being represented on the App Store, but there is no place on our platform for threats of violence and illegal activity. Parler has not taken adequate measures to address the proliferation of these threats to people’s safety. We have suspended Parler from the App Store until they resolve these issues,” reads a statement from the company on Saturday evening.
Apple issued an ultimatum to Parler on Friday demanding that it remove content in violation with its policies and provide a plan on how it would moderate content moving forward, which was first reported by BuzzFeed News. Apple said Parler had 24 hours to make the changes or else it would be removed from the App Store.
Shortly after, Google removed Parler from its app store, and Amazon Web Services, the cloud service provider that hosted Parler, suspended Parler’s account. In just the span of a few hours, these three tech giants colluded to destroy a fledgling competitor that had grown its user base to more than 15 million.
On Monday, more than three months after its initial ban, Apple announced that it would allow Parler back into its app store — due in large part to pressure from Rep. Ken Buck and Sen. Mike Lee. But will it matter? It would appear the damage is done. Parler will have to invest considerable resources even to get back to where they were.
Is Apple a Chinese Asset?
Perhaps the greatest concern about Apple is its partnership with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It’s not known what concessions to the CCP were made by the tech giant to gain access to mainland China. Do they work with Chinese intelligence? Did they create a backdoor? But the deal has clearly paid dividends: as of the fourth quarter of 2020, Apple is now the world’s largest smartphone vendor, and it boasts a leading 23.4 percent market share in the Chinese smartphone market.
While Apple steadfastly refuses to unlock iPhones on behalf of U.S. law enforcement, citing a respect for civil liberties, the company works hand-in-hand with the CCP to crack down on dissidents. In late 2019, Apple banned the HKmap.live app, which, according to The Verge, was being used by pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong to “mark the locations of police and inform about street closures.” Apple released the following statement to explain:
“We created the App Store to be a safe and trusted place to discover apps. We have learned that an app, HKmap.live, has been used in ways that endanger law enforcement and residents in Hong Kong. Many concerned customers in Hong Kong have contacted us about this app and we immediately began investigating it. The app displays police locations and we have verified with the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau that the app has been used to target and ambush police, threaten public safety, and criminals have used it to victimize residents in areas where they know there is no law enforcement. This app violates our guidelines and local laws, and we have removed it from the App Store.”
Apple has also benefitted from some of the CCP’s worst human rights abuses. It’s well known that the CCP has aggressively persecuted the Uyghur population, an ethnic minority that lives in the far-west Xinjiang region of China. The United States government has asserted that this treatment amounts to “genocide.” And yet, a bombshell report released last year by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute indicated that Apple is relying on Uyghur forced labor in its factories. Per the report:
“The Chinese government has facilitated the mass transfer of Uyghur and other ethnic minority citizens from the far west region of Xinjiang to factories across the country. Under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour, Uyghurs are working in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 82 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen.
“This report estimates that more than 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred out of Xinjiang to work in factories across China between 2017 and 2019, and some of them were sent directly from detention camps. The estimated figure is conservative and the actual figure is likely to be far higher.”
The report goes on to detail the transfer of thousands of Uyghurs to a total of four factories used in Apple’s supply chain. Truly shameful behavior from an American company.
Tomorrow (Wednesday), the Senate Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights will be hosting a hearing entitled, “Antitrust Applied: Examining Competition in App Stores.” Republican senators on this subcommittee include Sens. Mike Lee, Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, Marsha Blackburn, and Thom Tillis. Let’s hope they ask some tough questions about Apple’s questionable behavior both domestically and in China. We can’t let them off the hook.