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China Targets Apple iBooks And iTunes Movies In Latest Shutdown

It seems that not even the technology giant Apple is impervious to China’s latest censorship efforts as Apple iBooks and Movies were shut down in the country on April 22. This comes as a shock due to the services having been introduced to China on September 2015, only seven months prior. They were the first service to introduce China to Apple’s entertainment ecosystem.

The People’s Republic of China is infamous for its stringent censorship laws, with major websites such as Facebook and Google being blacked out behind the so-called “Great Firewall of China.” Despite that, Apple was one of the few Western companies allowed to thrive without much interference by the government. However, it seems that it’s no longer exactly the case after this episode.

The shutdown of iBooks and iTunes Movies is not an isolated issue, but it does come as a surprise as Apple had been one of the more secure companies in China. It seems to have taken Apple by surprise as their Chinese website still had job listings related to the services, which is a sign that they were planning to grow them further.

It was ordered by China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television, according to sources. Chinese consumers can no longer access these services within Apple, which affects the company greatly as it has become more reliant on the Chinese market while iPhone sales have been slowing down in the U.S. and other Western markets.

Meanwhile, Microsoft and Qualcomm had been targets of antitrust investigations in China during 2015, while major websites such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter are continually blocked. Enterprise hardware companies such as Cisco and IBM had been met with lukewarm sales after Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations. The government had been mounting even more pressure on Western technology companies lately, and it seems that it’s not about to stop anytime soon.

The administration of President Xi Jingping has seen great control being cast upon China’s technology sector, including what information is made available on the internet. Apple products had become popular in the country, making China the company’s second largest market, with Chinese consumers having spent $59 billion on Apple products in the last fiscal year.

While it has indeed been a sign of China’s growth as a consumer-driven economy, more of the content delivered by such technologies have been put under the Chinese government’s microscope. President Xi Jingping himself had commented on the state media regulators’ increased responsibility in scrutinizing new media being delivered by services based outside of China.

In the meantime, Apple has stated that it hopes to make “books and movies available again to our customers in China as soon as possible” after the shutdown of iBooks and iTunes Movies. Apple had recently brought digital wallet services to China by launching Apple Pay in partnership with UnionPay, China’s only domestic bank card company. It’s likely that Apple will cooperate with a Chinese firm to do the same with books and movies, as is usually the case with many other foreign companies looking to do business in China.

"The Encryption Tightrope: Balancing Americans' Security and Privacy" on Capitol Hill
Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing titled “The Encryption Tightrope: Balancing Americans’ Security and Privacy,” on Capitol Hill, March 1, 2016 in Washington, DC. Apple was fighting a court order requiring them to assist the FBI in opening the encrypted iPhone belonging to San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. [Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images]
Technology industry insiders have said that other technology companies are now reassessing their entry into the lucrative Chinese market, weighing whether the potential revenue is worth facing a similar encounter with China’s state regulators. There are also speculations that the shutdown may be related in some way to the Chinese government’s recent requests for access to the iOS source code.

There are domestic options in China for digital distribution of movies and other video content such as YOU On Demand, which is much like Netflix for China. There’s Youku, which is China’s YouTube, and Baidu, which is like their Pandora. These services are regulated by the government, with content being scrutinized and censored before being made open for Chinese audiences.

[Photo by ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images]