Big Tech Bows to China

Heritage Explains

Big Tech Bows to China

Apple bowing to the CCP, why Apple would want to remove Twitter from its App Store, if Elon Musk will be able to use his power for good, and more.

This week, we explain more about Apple bowing to the Chinese Communist Party, why Apple would want to remove Twitter from its app store, if Elon Musk will be able to use his power for good and more. Our guest is Jake Denton, a research associate in Heritage’s Tech Policy Center. 

Michelle Cordero: From The Heritage Foundation, I'm Michelle Cordero, and this is Heritage Explains. Big tech is making big news. Last week, Apple made headlines when the news broke that they restricted access to AirDrop in China, to block widespread protests over the Chinese Communist Party's zero-COVID policy. Here's Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

Ron DeSantis: You have people in China that are really engaged in a noble effort to protest, which is basically Leninist rule. So, what is Apple doing with that? They are limiting the AirDrop function of the protestors, so they are serving basically as a vassal to the Chinese Communist Party.

Cordero: In other big tech news, Elon Musk recently tweeted his plans to release information on the suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story, and Apple threatened to remove Twitter from the App Store. All this while calls to ban TikTok continue to gain steam. This week we explain more about Apple bowing to the CCP, why Apple would want to remove Twitter from its App Store, if Elon Musk will be able to use his power for good and more. Our guest is Jake Denton, a research associate in Heritage's Tech Policy Center. Our conversation after this short break.

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Cordero: Jake, thank you so much for joining us.

Jake Denton: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

Cordero: Okay, so AirDrop, which is a feature that allows users to share content between other Apple devices without using the internet, has become a really important tool in protestor's efforts to circumvent censorship in China. Can you explain what's happened recently in China when it comes to that feature?

Denton: Yeah, the landscape for mobile communications in China, and frankly communications in general is much different than the Western world, and many of us really haven't experienced that at all. So, in anticipation of some very large scale anti-government protests in China, that were kind of in response to their COVID policies, and really just kind of building animosity amongst the people. [inaudible 00:03:23] third term, he's about to take here, Apple was reached out to by the CCP to disable AirDrop. This is because China basically can maintain control over iMessage, Gmail, those types of traditional communications.

Denton: But what AirDrop does is it forms essentially a local network not connected to the internet. You can just Bluetooth connect and send photos, usually is the way they do this. So, when they're organizing these protests, and want to avoid surveillance, they're using AirDrop. So, this is a very significant move, and really there was, it's unprecedented. Apple's removed things from the App Store in response to protests. They've assisted in other ways, but they've never disabled the full feature.

Cordero: Wow. Has Apple responded to why they're doing this?

Denton: Not yet. So, Tim Cook was actually, the CEO was in DC to meet with lawmakers, and he was actually kind of ambushed leaving one of these meetings. He did that typical kind of walk of shame where you don't look at the camera and said nothing. The closest we've really gotten to any explanation for this is Apple said that they're going to be redoing the way AirDrop functions, but it's not leaving any device outside of China. So, the way they're redoing it here in the West is that they're making AirDrop only available in 10 minute intervals to try and stop people from getting spammed from rogue devices. But AirDrop is remaining here, and they just removed it in one particular country in response to a social event.

Cordero: That sounds pretty obvious.

Denton: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's pretty clear cut what they're up to there.

Cordero: All right. In other Apple news, Apple has threatened to remove Twitter from its app store. Can you explain to our listeners why they would do that?

Denton: Yeah, so Elon hasn't been shy about being unpleased with the way Apple handles the software developers and mobile app producers on the App Store. So, a lot of people don't realize this, but all in-app transactions, whether that be a subscription to an $8 verification check or a coin in your favorite mobile game, 30% of that transaction goes to Apple, and it serves almost as a tax on the internet. So, these developers, not just Elon Musk when he took over Twitter, but broadly have always voiced opposition to this. It's a very unfair tax. This initially is what kicked off kind of this spat between Elon and the App Store. Then this was further pushed, because Elon has recently revealed that he intends to make Twitter into this basically new platform here in the States called
But it's basically a mirror of WeChat in China, a popular communications app that has also kind of migrated several things such as mobile banking, peer-to-peer messaging, all under one kind of application umbrella. So, China's close relationship with Apple is applying pressure to a Western competitor to that type of application. So, it's a culmination of things, but I think you can really attribute it to Elon not shying away from kind of not only going at Apple's monopoly, but their foreign relationships here.

Cordero: Yeah. Also, when it comes to Twitter, Elon recently tweeted that he'd be releasing what happened with the Hunter Biden story suppression by Twitter. Did he actually end up releasing anything?

Denton: Yes. So, the Twitter files came out at the end of last week. Matt Taibbi, a Substack journalist, was given access to essentially a very long list of internal communications that revealed how the Twitter Trust and Safety Team and some people in senior leadership went about suppressing the New York Post article that revealed the contents of Hunter Biden's laptop. So, this came out, and it showed essentially communications, discussing how to do it, what it would look like in execution, and kind of the precedent it would be setting. So, Elon did achieve rolling this out, but there are still more to come. It sounds like this was the prelude to banning the laptop, and then we're going to get communications that kind of reveal what happened afterward, and how it snowballed even further heading into the COVID era.

Cordero: I'm curious, Jake, what you think about Elon standing up to big tech. Do you think that he's actually going to be able to make a difference?

Denton: Well, I think it's important not to put any of these billionaires up on a pedestal, and make them out to be a hero. I think we have to realize that Elon Musk is still a capitalist businessman. He has intentions. This isn't some altruistic move to save a dying platform. He sees value here. So, I think very likely he could turn into just as evil of a super villain tech kind of mogul. But at the moment, he's the best thing we have, and I think he's fighting a lot of these battles that we've neglected for quite some time. You haven't really heard anything about Apple's monopoly since maybe Parlor was taken down a few years ago. So, he's bringing to the forefront a lot of these conversations that we've shied away from. So, I think net positive, but stay kind of pessimistic to an extent. Make sure that he doesn't get away with anything he shouldn't.

Cordero: Okay, so now we kind of had our big tech update, and I thank you for that. I just want to hit on one more issue. Heritage and many conservatives have been pushing for a ban on TikTok in the United States for a long time now. Can you once again, for our listeners explain why TikTok is such a national security threat? I think it's really important. I think sometimes people don't understand why, and they download the app anyway. Can you explain why?

Denton: Yeah. So, many of the listeners will probably recall when President Trump tried to ban TikTok from the App Store, and this kind of came as a surprise to most people. But what the intelligence community realized at that time, that had kind of been kept from consumers up until that point, was that China was using the application essentially as a Trojan horse to steal the data of Americans, and ultimately surveil our officials. So, following the turmoil from the ultimately- failed attempt to ban, he got a lot of corporate pushback and kind of the deep state, if you will, were very against really banning the application. We ended up banning the application from government devices, so the U.S. military doesn't have it on their device. It really poses the question, why can consumers have that application? I think it's really just the kind of paralysis that we are in right now as a Congress.

Denton: Our legislative body really is anxious about taking on big tech, but the risk still remains. Consumers personal data, so that means your geolocation, your browsing history, we're all familiar at this point now with cookies, the advertising tool, all of those things are being harvested, and turned into a giant profile on you, and then they're available to the CCP. While you may not think that it's a huge deal that your personal data is in China. What are they doing with an ordinary American's data? It's the bigger picture it paints. It allows for them to roll out particular propaganda efforts using the same platform that are micro-targeted. It allows for them to really get broad data to the way the country is headed, and they're able to manipulate us, frankly. So, from a national security perspective, to even a personal perspective, it remains a big issue.

Cordero: Thank you for that. I think, like I said, it's an entertaining app, and it's hard to put that bigger picture together. So, that makes a lot of sense. In conclusion, Jake, being that you're such an expert in this area, what do you think the next big move is to happen in this big tech shakeup?

Denton: Well, I'm anticipating more releases from Twitter. I think the files that reveal what happened during the COVID pandemic, if the Biden regime was actually communicating with Twitter staff to decide what posts hit the trending page, and really what accounts are allowed to live through band waves, these massive kind of overhauls where they clean the platform of any dissenting opinion, those files are going to be very interesting. I think that'll really ... if this first Twitter file drop didn't shake up things, that's going to be a hard one to avoid for kind of this entrenched Silicon Valley apparatus.

Cordero: Jake, thank you so much for joining us, and for your update on this area.

Denton: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

Cordero: That's it for today's episode. Thank you so much for listening. If you liked today's episode, we would appreciate it if you could leave us a rating or a review on Apple or share our episode on social media. It really does make a difference when it comes to combating the Left's stronghold on podcasts. We hope your holiday season has kicked off well, and we'll see you next week for an all-new episode.

Heritage Explains is brought to you by more than half a million members of The Heritage Foundation. It is produced by Michelle Cordero and Tim Doescher, with editing by John Popp.

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