Apple censors engraving service in China says Citizen Lab

TECH NEWS – Apple is censoring references to Chinese politicians, dissidents and other topics in its engraving service across all Chinese territories, according to a report.


Citizen Lab examined filters set for customers who wanted to have something engraved on their new iPhone, iPad, or other Apple device. And Apple had an extensive list of censored words, not only in mainland China but also in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Apple says its systems “ensure respect for local laws and customs. As with everything at Apple, our engraving process is guided by these principles,” Chief Privacy Officer Jane Horvath wrote in a letter to CitizenLab before the report’s release.

And the engraving service has sought to disallow trademarked terms, in addition to those that “are vulgar or culturally insensitive, could be construed as incitement to violence, or would be considered illegal under local laws, rules and regulations,” she defends.

CitizenLab, however, accuses Apple of “recklessly and inconsistently compiling curated keyword lists”.


The new year brought a ton of removals over at Apple.


Racist and sexual words and other terms that could be classified elsewhere


According to CitizenLab, a research group at the University of Toronto known for its work on technology and human rights, there has been previous research on Chinese censorship of the Apple App Store. But so far, there have only been anecdotal reports that the carvings have been rejected, they said. Its new report found more than 1,100 filtered keywords in six different regions, primarily related to offensive content such as racist or sexually explicit words.

However, they said the rules were being applied inconsistently and much more widely in the case of China. “Within China, we found that Apple censors political content, including broad references to the Chinese leadership and the Chinese political system, names of dissidents and independent news organisations, and general language related to religions, democracy and human rights,” says the report, which tells the censorship “spills over” into Hong Kong and Taiwan.

These were found:

  • 1045 keywords blocked in mainland China
  • 542 in Hong Kong
  • 397 in Taiwan

In contrast, only between 170 and 260 words were filtered out in Japan, Canada and the United States.




Historical terms


In Hong Kong, terms referring to the “umbrella revolution”, the pro-democracy movement and freedom of the press, as well as the names of some political dissidents, were also blocked. In Taiwan, leading members of the Chinese Communist Party, including historical figures such as President Mao Zedong, were reportedly filtered out.

Hong Kong is a so-called Special Administrative Region of China: a former British colony in China, but governed according to particular principles and enjoyed a high degree of autonomy until recently. Taiwan, meanwhile, is self-governing, but Beijing sees it as a breakaway rebel province that will one day reunite with mainland China.

“Much of the censorship goes beyond Apple’s legal obligations in Hong Kong, and we are not aware of any legal basis for political censorship of Taiwanese content,” the report concluded.

In addition, the investigation also found flaws – such as the censorship of the engraving of 10 individuals with the surname Zheng, a restriction that has no apparent political significance. “Apple does not, in our view, fully understand what content it is censoring,” CitizenLab said.

“Rather than being the result of careful consideration, each of the keywords censored appears to have been thoughtlessly appropriated from other sources,” the statement says – including a list of keywords likely used to censor a Chinese company’s products.


Apple’s response


Responding to the allegations, Ms Horvath said Apple’s rules are region-specific – and “no third parties or government agencies were involved in the process”.

“This is not an automated process at all, and we rely entirely on manual curation. But precisely because of this, it can sometimes result in engraving requests being wrongly rejected. But we also have a specific protocol for when this happens; we review it and correct it.” – (We only have one question: who are the people Apple refers to as curators? – ed.)

Source: BBC News

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