The tech giant’s questionable business practices in China “make it difficult to take them seriously on national social issues,” an expert told TheWrap.
To do great business in China, “you’re going to have to bow down” to the Communist-led regime there, said Matt Bilinksy, a technology and media lawyer at Weinberg Gonser LLP in Los Angeles. “There is no room for compromise. To access this market, you play by the rules of the Chinese Communist Party, and there is no room to deviate.
Apple’s commitment to ‘moral responsibility’ looks even more questionable after The New York Times reported that Cook endorsed the “aggressive” censorship of apps that the Chinese Communist government frowned upon. The report also states that the company stores personal data of its Chinese customers on computer servers operated by a Chinese government-owned company.
It is a disturbing arrangement. This is the same government that, under Xi Jinping’s leadership, has increasingly cracked down on free speech and rounded up Muslim citizens and thrown them into concentration camps. As the Times reported, “Apple’s compromises in its data centers have made it nearly impossible for the company to prevent the Chinese government from gaining access to emails, photos, documents, contacts and locations. millions of Chinese residents ”.
Apple did not respond to TheWrap’s request for comment. A company representative, in a statement to The Times, said, “We have never compromised the security of our users or their data in China or wherever we operate.”
It seems incongruous in a country like China, where the government can compel any company or business to disclose information. Apple’s famous “Think Different” slogan clearly doesn’t seem to match Xi’s China.
“This [report] really undermines their moral authority on privacy, because when you think of China, you don’t think of consumer privacy, ”tech ethicist David Ryan Polgar told TheWrap.
The Times report highlighted the high social cost of doing business in China. From Apple’s point of view – and from the point of view of its shareholders – it’s easy to see why compromises are needed: it’s a huge market. China has 1.4 million citizens, more than four times as many as the U.S. And business has been particularly good lately, with Apple bringing in $ 17.7 billion in revenue for Greater China in the last quarter. , up 87.5% from the same period a year ago.
“There is certainly a tension between the prioritization of profit motivation and the so-called business ethics and social good. [Apple espouses]Bilinksy said. The Times report, he said, “is quite difficult to reconcile with society’s claims to prioritize social good, or at least be aware of it.
Apple isn’t the only US company facing backlash for trying to appease China. John Cena’s apology this week for the “crime” of branding Taiwan a country, while promoting the release of the big-budget NBCUniversal “F9,” makes this obvious. His comments sparked an “uproar,” according to ABC News, among Chinese nationalists online, but the film still performed well at the country’s box office.
Yet it is Apple. It’s the good technology giant. After all, Apple didn’t hesitate to troll Facebook over its own data privacy concerns. Apple even paid for a giant billboard at CES Electronics in Las Vegas in 2019, saying, “What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone.”
While that doesn’t apply to Beijing, the ad fits perfectly with Apple’s well-crafted image in the United States, where it has taken several ethical stances over the past few years. In 2018, Cook urged tech companies to make a better police work for “hate speech”, and more recently, he denounced new electoral laws in Georgia. Even this month, Apple fired a recently hired advertising executive after employees complained about what they said Passages “openly racist and sexist” in a book he wrote.
In short, this is not a company that was afraid to take a stand. But its business practices in China undermine Cook’s claims of “moral responsibility” and question the real importance of social issues to the company.
“What’s tricky is that from a public perspective it’s hard to know what is a real concern compared to what’s going on with Apple,” Polgar said.
Bilinsky felt the same. “It’s hard to take them seriously on national social issues when they defend these positions in the name of generosity, tolerance or other lofty principles and then seem to throw them out the window as soon as they actually have to face it. . to have their product manufactured or sold in the largest expanding foreign market, ”he said.
In the end, that shouldn’t come as a big surprise. Apple hit its market capitalization of $ 2.1 trillion by focusing on products, and many iPhones and Macs will be sold overseas. But the next time Apple takes a stand on the national social issue, it’s worth remembering that the company has chosen to “think differently” about its moral responsibilities in China.