Apple News, one of the iPhone maker’s newest apps, is reportedly inactive in China. iPhone users in the country have reported seeing an error message upon logging in to the app -- another example of Apple's difficulties navigating its single-largest cellphone market.
“Can’t refresh right now,” read a message in the News app when one American customer, software developer Larry Salibra, attempted to log in while in China. “News isn’t supported in your current region.”
The problem seems to be more political than technical. A source with direct knowledge of the situation told the New York Times that Apple had voluntarily disabled the personalized news app, which it rolled out this summer in its iOS9 operating system to compete with incumbents like Google News and Facebook.
China’s extensive online censorship regime has proved a challenge for some of the largest and most influential U.S. tech companies, keeping some out of the market altogether. Google, Facebook and Snapchat are just a few of the American firms that have forgone billions of dollars in revenue due to Beijing’s stringent control of Internet communications.
Beijing exerts a particularly tightfisted control over news, with words as seemingly innocuous as “yellow duck” becoming the target of censors. China makes most news agencies filter their own content to pass muster. For Apple News, that would mean building out or contracting an in-house censorship division -- something Apple apparently has eschewed.
Some iPhone users aren’t pleased with the seeming surrender. Salibra, who brought the app’s disabling to wider attention on Twitter, expanded his criticisms on Reddit.
“What make[s] me uncomfortable is them enforcing rules of other countries on my device, which I didn't buy in that country, even when I've turned off location services,” Salibra wrote. “It bothers me not because Apple does it but because they have no option but to do it, and it is only going to get worse.”