Apple helps China censor VoIP technology as AI threatens millions of censorship jobs

Apple’s collaboration with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to censor online content in China appears to be continuing as the US company has demanded that app developers who want to make their apps available in the App Store in China remove a popular VoIP toolkit first.

CallKit outlawed in China

Developers of apps for the Chinese market have begun to receive instructions from Apple to remove a product known as CallKit from all apps aimed at the Chinese market. CallKit is a software UI framework which can be used to embed VoIP calling service into apps.

VoIP services allow people to make video and audio calls over the internet. But CallKit doesn’t actually enable VoIP calls to be made, but rather allows developers to integrate calling services with other call-enabled apps.

It seems that this capability goes against the Chinese Communist regimes stringent online censorship regime and they have therefore decided to ban it. And once again, Apple has proved a willing servant to their censorship demands.

The US company, which prides itself on protecting user privacy and acting as tool for freedom of speech elsewhere in the world, has already been badly burned after jumping into bed with the CCP before.

They received near universal criticism late last year after helping the CCPs efforts to block access to VPN services in the country, by removing 674 VPN apps from their app store. This led to formal attacks from US Senators, the United Nations, and others.

How Apple continues to kowtow to the Chinese Communists

But, it seems that they haven’t learned their lesson, with developers now reporting that apps including CallKit are being rejected by Apple. One such developer shared their response with an Apple forum.

In it, Apple explains that, “Recently, the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) requested that CallKit functionality be deactivated in all apps available on the China App Store.”

While Apple may describe it as a ‘request’ it is quite clear that this is an instruction which Apple are more than happy to kowtow to. They go on to insist that unless CallKit is removed from the app, they will not approve it for the Chinese App Store.

Apple has so far refused to comment on the move, despite a request from the Register website to do so.

AI threatens millions of censorship jobs in China

But while Apple’s continued subservience appears to be good news for Chinese internet censors, there is also some bad news for the millions of people who work to delete and control online content in line with the demands of the Communist Party’s latest demands.

The Financial Times newspaper is reporting that jobs as an internet censor in China are no longer secure thanks to the increased use of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

According to the report, manual censorship is proving increasingly difficult and internet use in China continues to spiral and the censorship requirements of the Xi Jinping regime escalate.

As a result, some Chinese companies, such as video-sharing platform iQiyi, are already turning to automated programmes to do the job instead. iQiyi has seen a 20-fold increase in the number of videos on its platform over the past five years, with Communist Party data suggesting it currently hosts more than 750 million.

However, their censorship team only numbers 500 people and without the assistance of AI were struggling to cope. But, as iQiyi’s CTO told the FT, AI is not currently the answer on its own.

He explained that it was fine for picking up on sexual content, but less good at identifying the oblique themes that many Chinese people use to try and get their content past the censors.

This includes things like the Winnie the Pooh meme, which recently because hugely popular owing to the cartoon bear’s similar physical appearance to Xi Jinping and the recent crackdown on Peppa Pig, which we reported on earlier this month.

But the technology is developing all the time and as the cost of meeting the CCPs censorship demands manually continues to escalate, more and more companies are likely to turn to AI as a means to save money, with job losses an inevitable consequence.

Both stories show how online censorship continues to flourish in China and explains why, despite efforts to ban them, VPNs remain such an important and popular tool for Chinese people to access the internet freely.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *