Fast Company

Bad Apple: Censoring the Dalai Lama in China iPhone Apps

dalai lama iphone

Oh dear--this isn't going to end well, and it's a shame. Apple, which usually enjoys a rosy-tinted PR glow, has soured its image by censoring iPhone apps that relate to the Dalai Lama in China. Is this the cost of doing business in China?

Apple's entry into the potentially lucrative Chinese mobile phone market was long anticipated both inside and outside the company, and the negotiations themselves seem to have matched the Great Wall itself in sheer complexity and length. Even after the launch, there was concern about how well things were going--but the sales figures of the device have clearly picked up a lot now.

But of course, doing business inside one of the World's closed-minded nations--one that regularly censors the Net and even shuts off access to foreign social networking sites because of its "polluting" effects (read: truthfully newsworthy)--is never going to be easy. To get permission to do business there, you have to kowtow to the Government's point of view. A lot. Even when that point of view is, to us outside the nation, almost criminally insane.

Hence the censorship of apps that mention the Dalai Lama. Never mind how much you might think of the Nobel Peace Prize-winner as a calm, rational, happy and enlightened soul: In China he's a dissident, a figure for fomenting political dissent. Hence Apple has to agree to censor apps that pertain to the little guy.

Nasty? Yes. Evil? Possibly. Representative of Apple completely giving in to Chinese draconian measures? No. Because the company is simply following the rules that everyone--Google, Yahoo, and so on--are all following too. And it's not voluntarily doing so--if it were, it would also have alerted Chinese authorities to any one of a number of apps among the thousands that exist that let users circumvent censorship. Like those that link to YouTube content, which is otherwise banned. Or those that act as indirect gateways to social networking sites that are subject to censorship and lock-downs. China's such a huge business opportunity it can't be ignored, despite the inherent moral and ethical issues.

Of course the Chinese are unlikely to be getting the sort of Government 2.0 apps that are sweeping smartphones here--the ones that let you send in a pic of a pothole in a road, or see where local federal cash spends are occurring. And that's a shame. Though there's always a jailbreak route to a "Seen an example of government oppression? Send in a pic!"

[Via PCWorld]

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5 Comments

  • Chris Reich

    There is a lot of money to be made in China.

    The only question is how much of your character and ethical core are you willing to sacrifice to make that money?

    No one profits from dealing with China without getting stained. How dirty are you willing to get? And how much America are we willing to suffocate to make a buck in China? Lenin almost had it right. We will sell them the rope to hang ourselves. Russia couldn't do it because they had no Rubles to buy rope.

    China on the other hand has the rope factory. We built it. And we'll buy the rope from them.

    Chris Reich
    www.TeachU.com

  • Pan Osiris

    It is high time to stop placating the powers that be in China, placing profit ahead of maintaining a moral center. If we shift all the business we send China across the Himalayas to the world's largest democracy, India, then we properly impugn the schmucks that run China and we help lift hundreds of millions out of poverty and near poverty in a nation that has societal goals in concert with ours. There is no excuse for oppression, anywhere.

  • Kit Eaton

    @John. Fabulous to hear your insight, thanks! It's indeed a pain. But I too hope you're right... there are the faintest of hints that the technological revolution may actually be a path along which China, as it treads, will have to loosen up

  • John Bergquist

    Over a year ago I was teaching English in China for a local govt. university. At the time there was an uprising in Tibet and many of us were upset by the news. Our guide had a very different perspective though. He explained that so much good change was happening in China and much of the worlds media was still focused on the bad. I don't think he was minimizing the Tibet events. I just think that the popular media perks up at any sign of the old China rearing it's ugly head. It pains me to see Apple have to go through the same regulations as other intl. businesses, That is the cost right now of doing work within it's borders. As an iphone app developer I currently have a product being sold there. My hope is that as China opens up to the world, they also will begin to loosen these controls.
    @johnflurry