Apple’s business model made Chinese oppression inevitable

A photon torpedo on the bridge in Act I will go off by Act III.

Cory Doctorow


A Chinese revolutionary poster depicting a marching army of peasant soldiers. It has been altered so that a man at the front of the column is carrying an Ipad. The image is surmounted by Apple’s ‘Think Different’ wordmark.

A month ago, a wave of rare political protests swept China, centered on Beijing, where Premier Xi Jinping was consolidating his already-substantial power by claiming an unprecedented third term:

Protest organizers in China struggle with the serious legal and extrajudicial penalties for anti-government activities, backed by a sophisticated digital surveillance grid that monitors and blocks online communications that might challenge government authority.

Though this digital surveillance network is now primarily supplied and serviced by Chinese tech companies, it can’t be separated from western tech companies. The first version of the Chinese digital surveillance grid was built by Cisco:

Tech companies like Yahoo went into China knowing that they’d have to censor the internet, and ultimately turned over their users’ data to Chinese authorities, who subsequently arrested and tortured some of those users:

Google pulled out of China in 2010, after the Chinese government hacked and arrested Gmail users. But eight years later, Google was secretly working on Project Dragonfly, a censoring, surveilling search product designed for the Chinese market:

Apple plays a key ongoing role in Chinese state surveillance and oppression. Like most tech giants, Apple depends on access to low-waged Chinese factory workers with weak labor protections to hold down the wage bill for its manufacturing.

Apple also relies on selling phones and computers and services to the titanic Chinese middle class, a category that’s loose enough that estimates of its size range from 350m to 700m — but even the lower…