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December 2, 2022

Do Better, Apple

It has turned off its very useful Airdrop feature that helped Chinese protesters. Apple shut down the feature at the command of the communist regime.

I write this on a MacBook Pro running on a hotspot off my iPhone. I love Apple. In first grade, I got to work on an Apple II. By third grade, our school had an Apple IIe. By fourth grade, we had a computer lab filled with Apple IIe’s where we learned to type, learned the programming language Logo, and learned how to use AppleWorks. In sixth grade, we had BASIC programming on an Apple IIe. By eighth grade, we were rolling over to Macs and I fell in love with an Apple IIGS.

After growing up in Dubai surrounded by early Apple products, then returning to Windows 3.1 in Louisiana, I moved to college, saved my money, bought a Mac and never looked back. I am an Apple fan.

So, I am very disappointed in the company.

I understand that years ago Apple decided it could make its products in China at a large scale for less money. All of Apple’s consumers have benefited from their relationships in China that allow them to produce large quantities of devices more cheaply. But now, Apple is tied to the country’s authoritarian regime. It has turned off its very useful Airdrop feature that helped Chinese protesters. That feature allows people to share pictures and videos quickly across devices with strangers. Apple shut down the feature at the command of the communist regime. This is not the first time Apple has had to bend to the will of its Chinese masters.

I understand Apple has very little choice if it wants to do business in China but doing business in China is a choice. Margaret Thatcher ultimately regretted overseeing the handover of Hong Kong to China. The British assumed their values could penetrate China and reform its communist totalitarian state. They realized too late they were wrong.

Apple may think it can be a force for good in China, but it should be clear now that it cannot be. Moreso, Apple’s pressure on Twitter adds to the problems.

Let’s be very clear, neither Apple nor Elon Musk has clean hands here. Both the former and the latter have played to and catered to President Xi Jinping in China. They have tried to placate the communist taskmaster to line their pockets with money. Musk may scream about free speech, but he is not really committed to it except where it benefits him. It benefits him at Twitter.

What is so disturbing about Apple is that it continues to let TikTok exist in its app store while, if Musk is to be believed, Apple has threatened to remove Twitter if Twitter does not censor content.

TikTok is run by a company, ByteDance, that operates as a subsidiary of the Chinese Communist regime and army. There is a picture of Apple CEO Tim Cook with former ByteDance CEO Zhang Yiming in Beijing. Zhang fled China after stepping down as CEO.

ByteDance’s TikTok is a surveillance app by the Chinese state deployed against Westerners. In addition to probably building a facial recognition database for China globally, multiple reports have documented TikTok being used by the Chinese communists to spy on people in the West. On top of that, TikTok’s algorithm seems specially designed to pollute the minds of Western youth. The whole organization is nefarious, and Democrat Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is openly warning Americans to get off TikTok.

NPR reported in 2020 that “Justice Department officials say ByteDance is beholden to Chinese laws that may require the company to assist in surveillance and intelligence operations at the direction of the Chinese government.”

But Apple does nothing against a surveillance app of the Chinese communists while threatening to ban Twitter from its app store for Twitter allowing too much free speech.

Elon Musk is no saint here, but Apple is at home and abroad siding with those who want less speech, not more; more state control, not less; and heavier hands applied to technology, not lighter hands.

This is unacceptable. Apple needs to do better.


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