Apple has reportedly removed a pair of RSS reader apps, Reeder and Fiery Feeds, from the App Store in China due to their ability to allow users to access information the country would rather they not see.
It’s not clear exactly what prompted this particular banning, but China has been cracking down on RSS feeds since 2007. That year, it initiated a blanket ban on all web-based RSS feed aggregators. In 2017, Apple removed RSS reader app Inoreader from the App Store in China.
In other words, this may be less a case of “What did Reeder and Fiery Feeds do wrong?” than “how did they manage to survive as long as they did?”
A spokesperson for Fiery Feeds told TechCrunch that they saw little point in appealing to Apple because the ban came from the Chinese government. Prior to the ban, Fiery Feeds reportedly had in the vicinity of 1,000 monthly active users in China.
Apple’s China challenge
Scenarios such as this are ones that Apple increasingly faces. Tim Cook has been outspoken about his belief that China represents Apple’s future biggest market. However, in order to do this, Apple has appeared to kowtow to China on multiple occasions. As one example, it agreed to remove the Taiwan flag emoji from its iOS keyboard for users in Hong Kong and Macau. This is because China does not recognize Taiwan as its own country. It also agreed to switch Chinese iCloud accounts over to a data center controlled by a Chinese company.
Last year, Apple removed an app being used by protestors in Hong Kong to track the whereabouts of police. A prominent Hong Kong legislator and IT entrepreneur accused Apple of participating in “censorship and oppression” in China by doing so. That same year, a pair of Republication politicians accused Apple of failing to “stand up and be a stronger voice for freedom around the globe.”
This latest incident is just the latest in that series of events. From Apple’s perspective, it’s easy to see why it’s such a bind. On the one hand, Apple executives like Tim Cook are outspoken defenders of civil liberties in the U.S. At the same time, failing to abide by local laws around the world could get Apple booted out of the countries in question. When you rely on China both for manufacturing and buying products, that’s not such an easy call to make.