Chinese internet users have lost one of their last avenues to foreign news after the Yahoo Finance app disappeared from Apple’s store, as the Communist Party intensifies its censorship of information from abroad.
The Yahoo app republishes news from foreign media organisations, including outlets whose websites are blocked in China, such as Bloomberg and Reuters, as well as stock market data.
This allowed users to skirt official censorship bans, a feature that likely drew the ire of Chinese authorities.
Beijing’s crackdown on foreign content and influence in China has affected everything from private school curricula to karaoke bar songs.
Chinese government censors have always tightly controlled news and information, blocking access to foreign media websites and social media networks, such as the BBC, New York Times, Facebook, Google and Twitter.
“Recently Apple has been removing many apps at the demand of the Chinese authorities,” said Benjamin Ismail, project director at Apple Censorship, an organisation that tracks which apps are available, and where.
“But complying with governments’ orders is different than complying with law, especially in China, where the authorities often resort to extralegal means to muzzle the press, bloggers, activists or any dissenting voices.”
It was not clear whether Yahoo or Apple had removed the app. Yahoo did not respond to a request for comment, while Apple did not comment.
'A pattern of randomised censorship'
Days before the removal of the Yahoo app was detected last week, it carried a story by Bloomberg about China’s crackdown on the tech industry.
The piece detailed how Apple had thus far managed to stay on Beijing’s good side – including by taking down mobile apps at the request of the authorities.
Over the last few weeks, at least nine other apps that offer users religious materials – texts, prayers, interpretations and podcasts – have also been taken down from Apple’s mainland China app store.
Apps affected include Quran Majeed, Olive Tree Bible, Holy Bible King James, and Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom.
Quran Majeed is popular with millions of Muslims worldwide, and was reportedly banned due to “illegal content.” Its developer, Pakistan Data Management Services, did not respond to a request for comment.
Olive Tree Bible said it had been told during a review that it needed to “provide a permit” showing it was allowed to distribute such an app in mainland China.
The company chose to remove the app itself for now, as it works to obtain the necessary approvals.
Developers listed for the other religious apps could not be reached.
“This randomness is actually a strategy...of Chinese authorities’ censorship,” said Mr Ismail. “This red line is constantly moving and any day you can discover that you have been crossing the line without realising it.”
Even a handful of Christmas-themed mobile games have been taken down from Apple’s China app store.
The officially atheist ruling Communist Party has waged a campaign against religion, ripping down crosses, shutting mosques and decreeing pictures of leader Xi Jinping be displayed in Buddhist temples and Christian churches.
The Telegraph independently verified that these apps are no longer available to Apple users in mainland China.
Last week, the professional networking service LinkedIn said it would shut the version of its site available in China as it was “facing a significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China.”
LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, was one of the last foreign social media networks openly operating in China. It came under fire recently for censoring some profiles – including those of Telegraph journalists – for content considered prohibited by the Chinese authorities.
Additional reporting by Milan Yip