Apple formalizes freedom of speech commitments following investor pressure over China censorship

Apple has released a formal statement asserting its company’s commitments to human rights and freedom of speech. Apple says it believes in the “critical importance of an open society” and “the best way we can continue to promote openness is to remain engaged, even where we may disagree with a country’s laws”.

A group of investors had voiced concerns about how much Apple defers to China’s censorship demands, such as removing VPN apps from the App Store or moving citizen’s iCloud data to Chinese-controlled data centers. However, Apple’s new statement does not really mean it is going to change how it operates. The company says it will follow local laws as it has always done, which means it will have to continue locking down the iPhone and other Apple devices in China, until Chinese laws change.

The sharehold group, named SumOfUs, has repeatedly filed proposals for the yearly Apple investor meeting to force Apple to double-down on freedom of speech commitments. Its proposals have so far failed to garner enough support from voting Apple shareholders.

The group said it has pleased that Apple has released this human rights policy on its own accord. However, they are still campaigning for Apple to release reports on how it is handling institutions that limit free expression, similar to the environmental and supplier responsibility reports that Apple releases annually. It plans to bring this to shareholder vote at the Apple 2021 investor meeting, which is normally held in February.

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