It's not a secret that different countries have different views towards the technology that Americans take for granted. Companies like Apple are often forced to play by those country's rules, or they don't get to play at all. Still, the company receives an astonishing number of requests to remove apps based on the view that they are violating local laws.
Apple's most recent transparency report reveals the scope of those requests and provides insight into the company's response. For the six-month period ending December 31, 2018, the company received requests to remove 770 apps worldwide, with 626 of those coming from mainland China.
Apple says that it removed apps in compliance with those requests a total of 634 times worldwide, with 526 of those apps removed in China.
While that is a tiny fraction of the millions of apps currently available, these are apps that were already approved by Apple as not violating any of its terms. In the case of China, Apple says that most of the apps involved were requested for removal because they were related to illegal gambling or other illicit activities.
The report makes it clear that governments are increasingly interested in having a say in what you are able to do with your devices--and whether they're able to access your information when they feel it's necessary.
For example, the report details the number of national security letters and orders under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act the company has received from the U.S. government. While the results are provided in general terms, Apple says it has provided customer data in response to national security letters for more than 1,500 customer accounts in the second half of last year.
By the way, the report details another interesting fact about how the company does business in China, which is by far the leading requester of another type of inquiry related to customer devices: personal information about the owner or user of a specific device. China sent Apple information requests covering over 137,000 devices.
Apple says it complied 96 percent of the time.
While it's helpful that Apple produces and releases a report in the name of transparency, you should pay attention to exactly what it reveals. The devices you use every day contain more of your personal information than ever and governments across the globe are very interested in making sure they can access that information.
Usually, that's in the interest of law enforcement. But even here in the U.S., the current administration has moved to prohibit technologies like end-to-end encryption which provide privacy protection for users and make it difficult--or impossible--for government agencies to access your data.
Very few people argue that the government shouldn't be allowed to enforce its laws or investigate and prosecute people who violate them. It's also almost impossible to create a system that allows bullet-proof privacy and data security while allowing the government to snoop when it wants.
While Apple's report doesn't list any requests by the United States government to remove apps during the time period covered, apps like iMessage and WhatsApp would be illegal under that type of policy. It's not hard to see the next logical step: those types of apps being removed from the App Store and your devices.