Democratic Party Senator for Vermont Patrick Leahy has argued that Apple has a “moral obligation” to push back against suppression of free expression in China.
Leahy, who is the most senior senator and took office in 1975, has previously questioned Apple’s relationship with the government in China. In a new interview with CNBC, he said that, “American tech companies have become leading champions of free expression. But that commitment should not end at our borders.”
Leahy continued that, “Global leaders in innovation, like Apple, have both an opportunity and a moral obligation to promote free expression and other basic human rights in countries that routinely deny these rights.” While he argued that Apple is, to use Tim Cook’s words, a “force for good” in China, it is important that it uses its power to, “push back on Chinese suppression of free expression.”
Apple in China
Senator Patrick Leahy’s comments came following a speech by Tim Cook at China’s World Internet Conference over the weekend. The conference, which has been characterized as promoting China’s view of a more censored and controlled internet, highlighted the challenge Apple faces as it tries to expand its presence in one of the world’s biggest markets.
Cook notably didn’t speak out against the idea of a controlled, censored internet, although he did make comments about how future internet and AI technologies can be built with “privacy, security, and humanity” in mind.
This is a topic that Apple has clashed with China on, but Apple has nearly always backed down. For example, recently Apple fans in China were perturbed after buying the new Apple Watch Series 3 after its LTE connectivity, the chief feature of the new device, was reportedly blocked after brief availability with one carrier due to security concerns. In the past, Apple has also been ordered to shut down the iBookstore and iTunes Movies in China, as well as been forced to accept the Chinese government’s demands that it run network safety evaluations on all Apple products before they can be imported into the country.
Most notably, it has lately been made to remove Skype from its App Store in China, being told that it does not comply with local laws, possibly due to its strong encryption — which makes messages difficult for the government to monitor.
Do you think Apple should speak out against issues like this around the world, much as it does on political and social issues back home? Or is Apple’s only responsibility to make money for its shareholders? Let us know your thoughts on this divisive issue below.
Update: Responding to some of the criticisms, Tim Cook told an audience at the Fortune Forum in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou that, it is important to work with the government to prompt change. “My hope over time is that some of the things, the couple of things that’s been pulled, come back,” he said. “I have great hope on that and great optimism on that.”