Amnesty International Joins Criticism of Apple CEO Tim Cook on China

Tim Cook

Apple CEO Tim Cook has received accolades for free speech advocacy by respected institutions such as the Newseum, but the company is being called on the carpet for consigning its data storage services – especially crucial encrypted access keys – to a bunch of communists.

Amnesty International announced Thursday it would initiate a social media campaign against Apple, because the Cupertino, Calif. tech giant caved to the Chinese government and agreed to allow its customers’ data to be housed on servers there.

The effort coincides with a visit by Cook to the China Development Forum, where he is co-chairing an event sponsored by the government in which business leaders meet with public officials in an effort to improve relations.

It also follows only a month after Reuters reported that Apple agreed to store encrypted keys used to access customers’ (or, users’) data storage accounts (such as iCloud).

According to Reuters, “That means Chinese authorities will no longer have to use the U.S. courts to seek information on iCloud users and can instead use their own legal system to ask Apple to hand over iCloud data for Chinese users, legal experts said.”

The move is said to comply with new Chinese cybersecurity laws.

Needless to say, a communist nation known for oppression and persecution of dissidents, will not accede to the principles of due process and search warrants that freedom-loving Americans are so familiar with.

“Tim Cook is not being upfront with Apple’s Chinese users when insisting that their private data will always be secure,” said Nicholas Bequelin, East Asia Director at Amnesty International, in announcing the social media campaign. “Apple’s pursuit of profits has left Chinese iCloud users facing huge new privacy risks.”

Apple insists it has notified Chinese users of the changes.

“We elected to continue offering iCloud as we felt that discontinuing the service would result in a bad user experience and less data security and privacy for our Chinese customers,” Apple said in a statement. “We have been very transparent with our customers about this change. Beginning in early January and over the course of eight weeks, a series of emails and push notifications have informed all of our Chinese customers of the transfer and provided them with maximum flexibility to make changes.”

The Amnesty campaign riffs on Apple’s famous “1984”-based “Big Brother” commercial that introduced the desktop iMac computer that year, which aired during the Super Bowl. In it the company insists that with its new product, “you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’”

As the forum began in Beijing on Saturday, the recent controversy over the alleged misuse of data provided by Facebook, that ended up with political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, served as an opportunity for Cook to yet again show what a hypocrite he is. Following the “leak” of Facebook information, he called for new regulations to protect users’ privacy and disclose to them when their data may be sold or used in certain ways.

“I think that this certain situation is so dire and has become so large that probably some well-crafted regulation is necessary,” Cook said, according to a Bloomberg report. “The ability of anyone to know what you’ve been browsing about for years, who your contacts are, who their contacts are, things you like and dislike and every intimate detail of your life – from my own point of view it shouldn’t exist.”

Ironically Cook proclaimed this from the throne city of Chinese communist “Big Brother,” whom he is allowing to hold the keys to millions of Apple users’ private information. He readily accepts that it is okay for China to easily access “every intimate detail” of its citizens’ lives.

“We’ve worried for a number of years that people in many countries were giving up data probably without knowing fully what they were doing,” Cook also said, “and that these detailed profiles that were being built of them, that one day something would occur and people would be incredibly offended by what had been done without them being aware of it.”

“Unfortunately that prediction has come true more than once.”

Unfortunately Cook and Apple only seem to care about data access, sharing and manipulation when politically free nations – who care about principals such as privacy and transparency – object to its misuse. But it’s perfectly fine for communist China’s government to have easy access according to its whims.

Caving to the Chinese over where Apple hosts it data isn’t Cook’s only China problem. The company has long been criticized for its heavy use of cheap Chinese labor, where wages are minuscule, the hours are long, and some watchdogs say worker rights are abused, with threats by workers to commit suicide over conditions casting a cloud over Apple’s operations.

In September, National Legal and Policy Center asked Newseum to rescind its “Free Expression Award” that it bestowed upon Cook, in part because of its removal of all Virtual Private Network (VPN) apps from its China Apps Store, which enabled users to avoid state censorship controls. The move also spurred Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz to co-author a letter to Apple, which asked several questions about Apple’s relationship with the Chinese government and possible complicity in Chinese censorship.

But Apple basically gave the Senators the brush-off, saying the company “follow(s) the law wherever we do business.” But as NLPC President Peter Flaherty wrote for the Daily Caller in December:

Apple could have instead done the right thing and refused to remove the apps. After all, Cook has experience saying “no” to a government. Last year, Cook resisted a federal court order to unlock for the FBI the iPhone of Rizwan Farook, the San Bernardino shooter, calling it an “overreach by the U.S. government.” Farook and an accomplice had opened fire on a Christmas party killing 14 people and wounding 22.

Cook has said “there is no point in yelling at China,” but as Flaherty pointed out in another Daily Caller piece earlier this month, he has yelled at President Trump aplenty on issues like immigration and climate change, “invoking the most lofty and righteous ideals.”

Like the saying goes, if Cook didn’t have double-standards, he’d have no standards at all.