Dear Mr. Cook,
Access Now is a global organization working to extend and defend the rights of users at risk. We promote the right to freely express oneself, a right enshrined in international law. We recently wrote to you, providing the following recommendation based on our insights into the most acute issues facing at-risk users: Apple should disclose a commitment to respect freedom of expression as a fundamental human right, and put processes in place to strengthen its governance and oversight over the company’s practices impacting access to information online.
The recent decisions by Apple to remove the Chinese version of the Quartz news app and the HKmap.live app from the App Store, as well as reports of the censorship of iOS mobile games in China, underscore why we urged Apple to fully commit to respecting its users’ rights to freedom of expression. We share the concern expressed by the group of U.S. lawmakers who wrote to you on this subject, noting that Apple has censored at least 2,200 apps in China.
As the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has recently reiterated, in reference to its call to the Hong Kong Government, it is crucial to protect the right to freedom of expression and “ensure that the right of those who are expressing their views peacefully are respected and protected.” This freedom protects not just those speaking out, but also our ability to seek and receive information, online as well as off.
Apple’s role as one of the most powerful technology companies in the world means that its practices and policies not only impact its users, but also set standards across the industry. Respect for freedom of expression must be at the core of the relationship between a technology company and its users and the removal of these apps infringes that right. Furthermore, by undertaking these actions at the behest of government authorities with a proven record of censorship, Apple is demonstrating that it prioritizes financial interests over its’ users fundamental rights to freedom of expression.
Apple has previously demonstrated a strong commitment to protecting secure communications for its users in other parts of the world. However, we are concerned as to whether Apple’s partnership agreements with firms tied to Chinese government authorities will result in user data being subject to government access and interception in a way that violates human rights.
Apple has long been a leader in respecting and promoting users’ rights to privacy; we urge you to demonstrate the same concern for your users’ rights to free expression by:
- Publishing a human rights policy as recommended in the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights;
- Restoring access to the Quartz news and HKmap.live apps;
- Engaging with human rights groups and journalist associations on the impact your practices have on the realization of human rights online; and
- Disclosing your position on data sharing.
We look forward to receiving your response and discussing Apple’s commitment to human rights.
General Counsel, Access Now