A senior FCC official has criticized Apple CEO Tim Cook for his hypocrisy on human rights issues — arguing that the iPhone maker’s dealings with the Chinese Communist Party conflict with its purported commitment to protecting consumer rights.
Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Brendan Carr detailed his concerns about the tech giant’s activities in China politics in a letter that referenced Cook’s recent keynote speech at the IAPP 2022 World Privacy Summit where the Apple chief spoke at length against the exploitation of technology to abuse users’ rights.
“Cook’s words are based on the harsh reality of Apple’s behavior in China,” said Carr, the senior Republican member of the Federal Communications Commission.
“Indeed, at the same time as you were speaking in Washington about your App Store policies promoting privacy and human rights, your company was continuing its well-documented campaign in Beijing to crack down on apps in the best case of the Chinese Communist Party,” Carr wrote in the letter.
Apple is one of several major US companies that have faced criticism for expanding their business operations in China despite growing concerns that Beijing is committing human rights abuses against its residents.
Many of the allegations are related to the Chinese government’s crackdown on ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang – where human rights activists have accused Beijing of various abuses – including mass surveillance, forced labor and the creation of concentration camps. The US government has described China’s actions as genocide.
In May 2021, The Information (paywall) reported that seven Apple suppliers are linked to alleged forced labor operations in the Xinjiang region.
Apple has repeatedly stated that it has “zero tolerance” for forced labor within its supply chain.
Cook promoted Apple’s position during his April 12 speech – declaring that the tech giant views privacy as a “fundamental human right – essential to our vision of a world in which technology enriches people’s lives”.
Cook also promoted “Apple’s commitment to protecting people from the industrial data pool, built on the basis of surveillance.”
“At this very moment, companies are mining data about the details of our lives — the stores and restaurants we frequent, the reasons we support, the websites we choose to read,” Cook said.
Carr said he decided to contact Cook after learning that Apple had removed the Congress-funded “Voice of America” app from its app store in China — a decision the commissioner said occurred at the request of the Chinese government.
Carr described the removal of the device as “extremely concerning”.
The FCC official noted that Apple had previously removed Quran and Bible apps from its App Store. He lobbied Cook to tell the FCC by April 29 whether Apple plans to restore access to the Voice of America app.
In a statement, Apple said the Voice of America app has been removed from the Chinese App Store due to local legal requirements.
“Back in 2017, we were notified by the China Cyberspace Administration (CAC) that the Voice of America app does not comply with local laws because it lacks a license to operate in the country,” the statement said. “We are required to comply with the local laws in which we do business, although sometimes we may disagree. The app remains available for download in other countries.”