Apple Book, Film Services Shut Down In China

Apple has acknowledged its online book and film services have been shut down in China, only six months after their launch in the country, in the midst of an ongoing crackdown on foreign firms.

The move is surprising in that Apple has largely escaped the scrutiny that faced by other large US IT firms in recent years, and has successfully launched a number of high-profile products including its flagship iPhone and more recently Apple Pay.

Apple’s iBooks Store and iTunes Movies services currently return messages to Chinese users saying they are unavailable, according to reports.

“We hope to make books and movies available again to our customers in China as soon as possible,” Apple said in a statement, declining to provide further comment.

As part of a broader tightening of controls on foreign firms, China introduced regulations in March that impose strict conditions for online publishing, including prohibiting foreign ownership and joint ventures in online publishing. Content must be stored on servers in China under the new regulations.

A regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, demanded the Apple closures, according to a New York Times report citing two unnamed sources.

Change of stance?

Since 2013, when Edward Snowden revealed the US government’s use of IT firms for cyber-espionage, China has increased its scrutiny of American firms operating in the counry, including Cisco, IBM, Microsoft and Qualcomm.

Apple, in the meantime, has faced less heavy-handed regulation and has launched products including Apple Pay and the iPhone, the latter in partnership with China Mobile, the country’s largest mobile services provider.

If the closures reflect a more restrictive attitude toward Apple on the part of the Chinese authorities, this could be worrying for the company’s growth prospects. China is the world’s largest smartphone market, and is Apple’s second-largest market after the US, with its revenues in the country largely driven by the iPhone.

China has said its Internet regulations are necessary for national security and to protect the country’s stability.

“China must improve management of cyberspace and work to ensure high-quality content with positive voices creating a healthy, positive culture that is a force for good,” President Xi Jinping said at a meeting last week on the Internet policies, according to state-run news service Xinhua.

Last year Apple apparently blocked its own mobile news app in China, including restricting its use by those travelling from abroad, seemingly in a move to counter its censorship by Chinese authorities. The company has declined to comment about the matter.

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Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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