It's reported today in Hong Kong that more RSS apps are disappearing from Apple’s App Store in China in a new crackdown on feed readers. Apple removed two additional apps that pull content from RSS feeds, allowing Chinese users to access articles that might normally be blocked by the country’s Great Firewall.
Fiery Feeds and Reeder both acknowledged on Twitter that their iOS apps had been removed in the country. They cited a 2017 tweet by Inoreader, another popular RSS service, which posted a letter from Apple saying its app was removed in China because it included content that is illegal in the country. Inoreader said the entire service was blocked in April this year.
Apple has been repeatedly criticized for capitulating to the Chinese government by complying with censorship requests. The company has removed VPN apps, which let users bypass the Great Firewall, and news apps that include The New York Times and Quartz . Apple also removed a map app in Hong Kong that tracked protest activities. For more on this read Hong Kong's Abacus report.
However, Apple's CEO is on record stating that Apple will comply with the law of the land where they do business. This was repeated again in a February 2020 report which stated "Apple said in its statement that free expression 'is central to our company and its success' but that it is obliged to 'comply with local laws and to protect the safety of our customers and employees'", including by removing apps.
Removing apps and complying with governments is the cost of doing business in certain countries. In context, President Trump is now beginning a tech war with China, and while the ban of WeChat and TikTok apps is still in the courts, more than likely the ban will eventually go into action with Apple and Google removing the apps from their respective app stores.
Where it gets trickier is when a country like Russia demanded that Apple change their Maps app, like in the case of Crimea in 2019 where Apple complied. There are 114 UN members that don't support Russia's position on Crimea including the United States.
Choosing to support Russia's position on their Maps App as simply a cost of doing business in Russia, to many, crosses the line and shouldn't be a part of Apple's so-called "values."
Additionally, the group called "+SumOfUs.org" pressed Apple at this year's shareholder meeting. Their issue is not knowing what Apple's position is on the slave labor situation in China regarding Uighur people. If it's the law of the land for Apple to close their eyes to Apple's Chinese manufacturers using Uighur slave labor, will Apple look the other way and allow it to happen as a cost of doing business? That's when compliance with the "laws of the land" would dangerously cross the line. Unfortunately, trying to prove this situation is close to impossible being that the U.S. press is severely suppressed in China.
At the end of the day, while we hope that +SumOfUs.org will continue to press Apple on this and other related human right issues – the news of removing a few RSS feed apps from the App Store isn't seen as a major issue.