Chinese state media outlets have been trashing Apple for failing to cut down on Messages content related to pornography and gambling.
According to a Wall Street Journal report Tuesday, several state-affiliated media outlets in China, including state-controlled news agency Xinhua, have ripped Apple in recent days for not doing enough to filter prohibited content out of iMessage. CCTV went on to criticize Apple for allowing illegal gambling apps in the App Store in that country, under the guise of lottery apps.
It has often been a custom in China, the Journal said, for state media to launch campaigns against companies during times of trade-related tension.
The dispute illustrates the perils of an American company operating in a country without a free speech tradition, as the Chinese government is pushing Apple to intervene to block certain text messages, containing pornography, pirated content or other illegal activity. Apple has traditionally valued user privacy over such concerns.
Apple and the trade war
The controversy comes as trade tension between the governments of the U.S. and China grows and Apple fears being caught in the middle.
Apple's strategy has been to do all it can to keep the peace while maintaining strong relations with both governments. Tim Cook met with President Trump at the White House April 25, which the White House described as a "good meeting," and at some point this spring the Trump Administration reportedly promised Cook that the iPhone would be exempted from any tariffs directed at China.
Meanwhile, Cook has attempted to smooth relations with Beijing. He visited China in March and met with various government officials. Workers at Foxconn, according to the New York Times last month, have dubbed Cook's efforts "Red Apple."
The fog of (trade) war
With China a major market for Apple's products and also the place where the majority of its supply chain and manufacturing operations are located, the country is very important to Apple's business. But a trade war, as threatened by the president's tariffs, has the potential to bring all sorts of complications to Apple's plans.
Even if the iPhone ends up exempted from tariffs, the restrictions could affect Apple in other ways, from other Apple products to components or even accessories falling under the tariffs.
The barrage from state-run media is just the latest possible unintended consequence of the current trade tensions.