Senator Criticizes Apple's “Shameless” China Policy, Demands Answers

Senator Hawley | Image Credit: Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters


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Senator Josh Hawley wrote an open letter to Apple's Tim Cook accusing the company, among other things, of helping China suppress free speech.

Hawley has previously stated that Google's Cook and Sundar Pichai are personally responsible for privacy issues related to coronavirus contact tracing. Now he says Apple should cut its dependence on China and bring back jobs to the US — and Twitter should not be banned.

“Under your leadership, Apple has helped the Chinese Communist Party again and again in spying on and suppressing the basic human rights of the Chinese people,” he wrote. “At the same time, it looks like Apple may be importing this speech control model to the United States: reports indicate that your company may be removing Twitter from the App Store as a result of the free speech policy implemented by the new owner.”

The Missouri Republican senator provided Apple with a list of questions and a December 6, 2022 deadline for a response. The questions are related to:

  • When will Apple condemn the treatment of workers in Zhengzhou?
  • Why hasn't it condemned such treatment yet?
  • What is “material risk” » Apple's continued dependence on China?
  • If China invades Taiwan, what impact will it have on Apple?
  • Why did Apple restrict AirDrop in China?

Regarding the Zhengzhou factory, after the unrest started, Apple sent a team to assess the situation. It's not clear what else Hawley wants from Apple in this regard, other than perhaps a louder statement.

Over the years, Apple has also been clear about “material risks” in China, as detailed in SEC filings over the past decade.

It's unclear why Hawley believes that if Apple decides to remove Twitter from the app store for violating terms of service, likely related to moderation, that would be “deplatforming.” Effective good faith moderation by all online services is required in order to qualify for Section 230 protection from user-generated content in the United States. Failure to moderate a hosted app is not a major legal liability for an App Store host in the US, but exposes Apple to huge obligations internationally given that Twitter is a global service.

Also, even if the service is pulled from the App Store, it will still be available to all previous app loaders as well as Safari.

Senator Hawley also repeatedly asks how Apple communicates these concerns to its stakeholders. In addition to routine filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, where they resolve these issues, the company holds an annual meeting of shareholders.

He also wants Apple to detail its “plan to diversify its supply chain and manufacturing networks, including any expansion plans.” production of its products in the United States with the participation of American workers.

He also requests that the company “provide all communication between Apple and Chinese Communist Party officials regarding the AirDrop feature in the iOS 16.1.1 update.”

AirDrop was restricted in China for what Apple called testing until recent protests. Apple says a global change is coming soon to prevent a user-set, possibly long-standing setting from unwittingly receiving nudity or other objectionable content in public places.

Apple has yet to publicly respond, and we don't expect it to. It is unclear whether Apple will even respond to Hawley's letter.

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