Apple has stored the data of thousands of customers on Chinese servers and censored apps to please the government that controls most of its supply chain, the New York Times reports

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Apple has stored the data of thousands of customers on Chinese servers and censored apps to please the government that controls most of its supply chain, the New York Times reports
Apple CEO Tim Cook.AP Photo/Richard Drew
  • Apple has catered to China's government as it relies on the country's supply chain, the NYT reports.
  • Tim Cook approved using servers run by Chinese firms to store customer data, company sources told the NYT.
  • That would make it easy for authorities to access the information of millions of Chinese citizens.

Apple has increasingly bowed to China's demands as it relies more heavily on its supply chain, which it began building in the nation two decades ago, according to a revealing report from the New York Times' Jack Nicas, Raymond Zhong, and Daisuke Wakabayashi.

The Times spoke with 17 current and former Apple employees who gave details about how the company has catered to China.

Per those sources, CEO Tim Cook green-lit using servers run by Chinese state-owned companies to store customer data. China also reportedly wouldn't accept Apple's use of encryption technology that it typically uses in its data server centers, so the company agreed to abandon it.

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That made it easy for authorities to siphon sensitive information from millions of Chinese citizens such as emails, photos, and locations, security experts told the outlet. Such sharing of sensitive information is illegal by US law, as the Times notes.

The tech giant has also complied with the Communist Party's demands to censor about 55,000 apps from its App Store since 2017 that authorities deemed to be harmful to the government's values, sources told the Times.

Read more: It's clear the US does not care about China's face anymore

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Apple employees were tasked with flagging apps that company management perceived would anger the Chinese government, per the report. Topics on those apps that would get flagged include the Dalai Lama and independence for Taiwan, which China argues is a province of the nation. Some apps related to gay dating services and foreign news organizations also disappeared from the store.

A critic of the Communist Party, Guo Wengui, was also a banned topic on Apple's Chinese App Store, according to internal communications viewed by the Times. An Apple reviewer that approved an app associated with him was fired after Chinese officials contacted the company. Apple said it fired the employee due to poor work performance.

When reached for comment, a representative for Apple pointed Insider to Nicas' tweet featuring the company's full statement made to the Times.

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It told the publication that it follows Chinese laws and has "never comprised the security of our users or their data in China or anywhere we operate." Apple also told the publication that it only removed apps from its Chinese app store to abide by China's laws.

"These decisions are not always easy, and we may not agree with the laws that shape them," Apple said in the statement. "But our priority remains creating the best user experience without violating the rules we are obligated to follow."

China is a lucrative market for Apple, with a fifth of the company's sales coming from the country. Much of the company's products are assembled in the nation - Apple had the fifth-largest smartphone unit shipment in Q1, according to a 2021 report from the market research firm Canalys.

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As the NYT notes, Cook has routinely stated his dedication to human and civil rights, even as reports surface detailing connections between Apple's Chinese suppliers and forced human labor.

The Information reported last week that seven of apple's suppliers in China were found to be linked to suspected forced labor of Uyghur Muslims and other persecuted groups from the Xinjiang region. Apple has previously denied using suppliers that relied upon forced Uyghur labor.

You can read the full report on The New York Times here.

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