Governing Platforms Via Apple’s App Retailer within the U.S. and China

Governing Platforms Via Apple’s App Retailer within the U.S. and China

The American and Chinese language approaches to on-line platform governance are seemingly vastly totally different.

The American and Chinese language approaches to on-line platform governance are seemingly vastly totally different. One is considered a democratic utopia, and the opposite as an undemocratic dystopia. However how is Apple’s App Retailer ruled within the two nation-states? This publish will illustrate that the U.S. and China, no matter their claimed political values, use very comparable insurance policies and regulatory frameworks to control know-how. 

Nonetheless, what does range between states is how personal actors can reply to the insurance policies: To make clear, it’s the extent to which personal actors and members of civil society can object to and alter their authorities’s plan of action. With out the participation of civil society, each authorities would comply with the identical playbook: regulating, eradicating, and disclosing consumer knowledge. 

This publish will use Apple’s App Retailer as a case examine. The App Retailer is a crucial web platform, each globally and regionally. It’s paradigmatic of on-line platforms as a result of app shops not solely regulate apps on their platforms, however they will additionally regulate the customers of these apps. So, if a web-based platform that needs to be hosted on the App Retailer has governance values that don’t align with Apple’s pursuits, the platform in impact can’t uphold these values on the App Retailer.  

The dialogue is split into three components: The primary half describes how app shops operate and explores the components of the digital ecosystem of an app retailer over which their suppliers have digital governance tasks. Then the publish discusses the regulation of Apple’s App Retailer in america and China. The third a part of this piece conceptualizes Apple’s relationship to China and the U.S., making use of the idea of outsourcing governance to argue that China is extra capable of efficiently outsource governance of apps to Apple as a result of there are fewer methods to problem Chinese language regulatory and legislative choices. 

Apple’s Governance of the App Retailer 

App shops’ position in governance of apps may be divided into two components: They act as enforcers of native legal guidelines, and if the apps don’t comply with native legal guidelines, the shops take away them from the platform; and so they play a quasi-regulatory position by way of imposing their app insurance policies. Often, the enforcement measures they take are rejection of the app, removing of the app, suspension of the developer’s account, restricted visibility of the apps and account termination. 

Apple has had a big impact on user-generated-content apps, particularly in three points: content material governance, safety governance and privateness governance.

Content material Governance 

Apple gives a “curated” app retailer. Which means it has reviewers and editorial groups that monitor the content material of an app for approval. It has prolonged tips about what ought to be allowed on the app and what shouldn’t be.

Apple in impact has grow to be a quasi-regulatory physique for the apps. Within the authorized part of the rules , Apple obliges app builders to adjust to native legal guidelines wherever the app gives a service: “Apps should adjust to all authorized necessities in any location the place you make them obtainable.” App shops (on this case, Google’s) additionally present the mechanism for app builders to limit entry to their apps on a geographic foundation.

Apple has a big and efficient position in content material governance by regulating app builders’ insurance policies and habits. For instance, Apple can oblige apps to have a content material governance mechanism in place. Due to requests by Apple and Google, Telegram added its first phrases and circumstances about content material, requiring: “No requires violence, no porn and no copyright infringement on public broadcast channels.” In 2018, Apple had first threatened after which eliminated Telegram from the App Retailer as a consequence of inappropriate content material. In 2018, Apple eliminated Tumblr from the App Retailer as a result of it had not adequately filtered little one abuse supplies. And in January 2021, throughout the riot on the U.S. Capitol, Apple eliminated Parler from the App Retailer for not complying with Apple’s phrases of service.

Apple even asks app builders to comply with particular content material moderation measures. App Retailer assessment tips (see paragraph 1.2, “Consumer-Generated Content material”) require the builders of apps with user-generated content material to offer a way for filtering objectionable materials from being posted to the app, a mechanism to report offensive content material and well timed responses to issues, the flexibility to dam abusive customers from the service, and get in touch with info in order that customers can simply attain the app. 

The scope of inappropriate and objectionable content material lined by Apple’s insurance policies has been expanded over time. A quick comparability of the App Retailer’s assessment tips in 2021 to its earlier tips exhibits that, for instance, Apple outlined objectionable content material early on as “excessively objectionable or crude content material … primarily designed to upset or disgust customers[.]” Apple’s tips indicated that such content material can be rejected.

This temporary part turned way more elaborate, and, by 2021, objectionable content material had six classes, together with (1) defamatory, discriminatory, or mean-spirited content material; (2) lifelike portrayals of individuals or animals being killed, maimed, tortured, or abused; (3) depictions that encourage unlawful or reckless use of weapons and harmful objects, or facilitate the acquisition of firearms or ammunition; (4) overtly sexual or pornographic materials; (5) inflammatory spiritual commentary or inaccurate or deceptive quotations of spiritual texts; and (6) false info and options.

Enforcement of those insurance policies can happen by way of direct content material governance. For instance, Apple can establish sure channels on an app and ask builders to dam customers’ entry to the content material of these channels. This occurred in Belarus in 2020 when Apple requested Telegram to each block entry to and delete the posts inside a channel that was getting used to prepare protests. Apple said that the channel contained private info and deleted the posts as a result of the content material violated its privateness insurance policies.

Safety Governance

The App Retailer also can present safety governance of listed apps, which reinforces the apps’ safety. For instance, app retailer suppliers can take down insecure or identified malicious apps, or can impose a uniform and strict safety requirement on apps, rising general app safety. Apple imposes safety necessities by way of its Apple Developer Program License Settlement. It prohibits apps from containing malware (malicious or dangerous code or packages) or different inside elements (equivalent to pc viruses, trojan horses or “backdoors”). The settlement additionally requires safety checks earlier than apps are authorised and reserves for Apple the best to undertake safety checks, for instance, for malware or different dangerous or suspicious code, after an app is on the App Retailer. For instance, it prohibits dangerous adware that may create synthetic click-through of advertisements that generate visitors.  

Nonetheless, the method shouldn’t be good. On some events, Apple didn’t permit builders to deploy vital safety updates, in a single case for Telegram. This incapacity to successfully patch safety vulnerabilities could make customers much more susceptible to cyberattacks from malicious actors (together with id theft, password exfiltration, unauthorized monetary transactions, knowledge theft and site monitoring). 

Privateness Governance

Apple can reject or take away apps from its retailer in the event that they violate their customers’ privateness. Apple requires builders to stick to a wide range of privacy-focused, privacy-conscious measures equivalent to knowledge minimization, acquiring consumer consent, and agreements to not broaden the official function of information assortment with out prior consent. Causes for rejection or removing can embody builders amassing extra knowledge than they want or mishandling the information they gather. Apple’s app assessment group rejected roughly 215,000 apps for privateness violations in 2020.

Apple has grow to be extra proactive. As a substitute of counting on apps to acquire knowledgeable consent, Apple has acted by itself. Most lately, when downloading an app, Apple offers customers a alternative concerning being tracked by the app.

 Regulation of the App Retailer within the U.S. 

Within the U.S., the regulation of the App Retailer takes place by way of a mixture of legislative, adjudicative and govt processes. 


Within the U.S., one of many first items of laws that addressed content material regulation on digital platforms and transient networks was the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998. The DMCA particularly centered on copyright-infringing supplies and required web platforms to take motion towards such content material. Part 512 of the DMCA established limitations on legal responsibility referring to on-line materials hosted by digital platforms. In keeping with this part, digital platforms aren’t answerable for copyright-infringing supplies, so long as they take motion towards them when found. Whereas Part 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) immunizes platforms concerning legal responsibility, Part 512 of the DMCA requires them to behave. 

The scope of the content material regulation is evident and restricted, nonetheless. Over time, quite a few instances have offered jurisprudence on how the DMCA ought to be utilized. The App Retailer makes it attainable to submit disputes about apps that infringe on mental property rights. In keeping with Apple’s assessment tips, the corporate goes past copyright infringement and requires that apps with user-generated content material additionally attend to objectionable supplies. 

Past the DMCA and the CDA, different legal guidelines within the U.S. require digital platforms to have interaction with content material moderation, together with the Enable States and Victims to Combat On-line Intercourse Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Cease Enabling Intercourse Traffickers Act (SESTA). The legal guidelines eradicated the immunity protections granted to platform suppliers by Part 230. 

FOSTA’s goal was to amend and make clear that Part 230 of CDA doesn’t prohibit the enforcement of federal and state prison and civil legislation that relates to sexual exploitation of kids, intercourse trafficking, and different functions. 

Though the legislation was meant to facilitate the appliance of state and federal legislation to sure forms of on-line content material, the legislation made it conducive for platforms to take sweeping motion towards content material and providers associated to intercourse staff. 


Adjudication entails third events and the customers of Apple. They often sue Apple for internet hosting apps on the App Retailer which might be deemed unlawful. In Nelson et al. v. Apple, the plaintiffs, all personal residents, sued Apple as a result of it benefited from internet hosting an unlawful playing app. The lawsuit claimed that by internet hosting unlawful social on line casino apps, Apple facilitated and straight assisted creating the unregulated market of digital on line casino video games. The argument was that Apple enabled the apps to entry a brand new market of customers. California’s Enterprise and Professions Code, Part 17200 (Unfair Competitors Legislation and Illegal Enterprise Practices), was additionally invoked on this case towards Apple. 

One other latest case concerned the removing of Telegram from the App Retailer. Shortly after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot on the Capitol, Marc Ginsberg (former U.S. ambassador to Morocco) and the Coalition for a Safer Internet filed a lawsuit (Ginsberg et al v. Apple Inc.) towards Apple for not having Telegram faraway from the App Retailer.

The plaintiffs argued within the grievance that Apple knew that Telegram was getting used to intimidate, threaten, and coerce members of the general public, however that it had not taken motion towards the app. The lawsuit alleged that Telegram facilitated anti-Semitic and anti-Black extremism and violence throughout Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, and was an necessary software facilitating terrorist exercise, together with the assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. 

The causes of motion have been negligent and infliction of emotional misery, and violation of the “Unfair and Illegal” part of California’s Enterprise and Professions Code. The plaintiffs argued that Apple didn’t comply with its personal phrases and circumstances when it didn’t take Telegram down from the App Retailer. Apple apparently discovered Telegram’s content material moderation adequate each throughout and after the Capitol riot, because it didn’t concern any public warning to Telegram, because it had earlier than. On this lawsuit and comparable lawsuits normally, the complainants often ask for compensation for damages and the removing of the app by way of court docket ruling. 


The U.S. can try, and from time to time has succeeded in, regulation of social media platforms and apps by way of govt order. In 2020, the Trump administration issued Government Order 13942 that forbade app shops from internet hosting TikTok and WeChat. The rationale behind the manager order was based mostly on censorship, knowledge safety and privateness issues. The order additionally argued that by way of the unfold of Chinese language-developed purposes, the federal government of China threatens america’ nationwide safety, international coverage and financial system. 

The manager order didn’t straight require app shops to take down TikTok, however Part 1(a) of the order prohibited any transaction by any individual or with respect to any property topic to the U.S. jurisdiction with ByteDance (the proprietor of TikTok). The manager order was challenged in court docket, and federal judges issued a number of injunctions towards it. In impact, it by no means turned relevant in america.

Legislation enforcement businesses can make the most of numerous legal guidelines to request info from on-line service suppliers. Whereas the U.S. authorities has not requested removing of apps from the App Retailer, it has requested Apple buyer knowledge by invoking nationwide safety. Often the FBI, in accordance with 18 U.S.C. § 2709 (Part 21 of the Digital Communications Privateness Act of 1986), directs Apple to provide the identify, handle, and size of service for all providers in addition to accounts offered to the people that the FBI specifies within the request letter. 

There isn’t any court docket order concerned at this stage of disclosure; nonetheless, Apple has the proper to problem the request in a district court docket. A lot of the unsealed Nationwide Safety Letters aren’t in regards to the metadata that Apple has about consumer actions on their apps, however the risk exists for the FBI beneath the Overseas Intelligence Surveillance Act to request noncontent and content material info by way of these letters. 

Regulation of the App Retailer in China

On this part, the main focus shifts to contemplating comparable rubrics for a way China governs Apple’s App Retailer. Variations within the political and authorized techniques of america and China imply the rubrics won’t be precisely the identical, and in some instances points related within the U.S. could also be irrelevant in a Chinese language context. However usually much like the U.S., in China the App Retailer is regulated by way of laws and govt department processes. Whereas adjudication additionally takes place in China towards the App Retailer, the instances are extra centered on Apple’s conduct concerning the price construction and patent. 

Laws and Decrees

As early as 2000, China promulgated rules about on-line content material. These preliminary regulatory makes an attempt included laws and decrees. Our bodies such because the Nationwide Folks’s Congress and the State Council enacted laws, along with myriad decrees and rules from different ministerial models. China’s legal guidelines weren’t as restricted as these within the U.S., when it comes to defining boundaries. Chinese language legal guidelines banned pornography, violence, anti-government content material, and content material that damages the fame of the state and leaders. 

Underneath the Regulation on Web Data Providers of the Folks’s Republic of China, web info service suppliers want to make sure the legality of the content material on their platforms. The  provisions for the Administration of Web Information and Data Providers

 (Article 19) forbid numerous sorts of content material on on-line platforms equivalent to threats to nationwide safety and curiosity, dangerous content material, disinformation, defamation, and unlawful protests. 

Lately, China has consolidated present legal guidelines and added a variety of recent web legal guidelines that may have an effect on content material regulation, privateness and safety. These new measures vary from rules for algorithmic content material management to legal guidelines for private info safety. Web intermediaries with numerous customers are actually required to limit entry for suppliers of unlawful content material and to publish social accountability studies.


In China, lawsuits towards Apple are often introduced by personal events claiming patent infringement. 

Extra lately, particular person customers in China have been allowed to sue Apple over the excessive App Retailer price. Nonetheless, personal people haven’t introduced lawsuits towards Apple regarding dangerous apps on the App Retailer, nor are there any class-action lawsuits associated to the App Retailer. 

This can be a notable distinction between American and Chinese language approaches to platform governance. It might be that processes enabling civil society to problem Apple or sure legal guidelines in China may be weaker than these within the U.S., however this declare wants additional analysis, as it’s anecdotal and based mostly on desk analysis concerning the character of the lawsuits. Additional, the lawsuits filed by claimants in China will not be activism however, as an alternative, easy business disputes. 


Web platforms in China conduct self-regulation, as they do within the U.S. However as conceptualized by Ian Weber and Lu Jia, such self-regulation is directed largely by the desires of the federal government. Self-regulation in China is much like co-regulation. Even when platforms are formally free to make their very own coverage choices, the federal government tries to offer them with a construction. Weber and Jia argue that the “public pledge on self-discipline for China’s Web Business” issued in 2002 was such a construction.  

Extra lately, in 2021, Chinese language content material platforms equivalent to Weibo and Tencent have agreed to implement their self-regulation with extra self-discipline to assist protect a “clear” our on-line world. This was in response to the Chinese language regulatory crackdown on Chinese language movie star on-line fan tradition. The authorities determined that ‌fan teams ought to be regulated, and a number of the platforms pledged that they’d encourage customers to actively report unlawful content material.

Apple additionally receives requests from the Chinese language authorities to take away apps due to unlawful content material, which it obliges. Apple’s 2020 Transparency Report revealed that it receives the very best variety of removing requests of any nation from China and that the “[r]equests predominantly associated to apps with pornography or different unlawful content material.”

Apple and Hong Kong

In the course of the Hong Kong rebellion that started in 2019, Apple, on not less than two identified events, modified its platform governance as a direct results of this motion: Apple eliminated apps that protesters used to prepare themselves throughout the rebellion, and Apple didn’t be a part of the coalition of tech platforms that introduced they’d not disclose knowledge to the Hong Kong authorities.

Apple has been reportedly cooperating with the Chinese language authorities on many fronts, particularly in eradicating “problematic” apps from the App Retailer obtainable in China. Apple complied with  of the requests for app removing it acquired from China within the first quarter of 2020. 

In the course of the Hong Kong rebellion, Apple eliminated HKmap.dwell. Apple didn’t initially approve HKmap.dwell, an app that protesters used to trace the police, however even after being authorised, the app was eliminated a short time later. Apple allegedly argued that it needed to take down the app as a result of Hong Kong police claimed that protesters used the app to find and assault police. 

In 2020, China imposed a brand new nationwide safety legislation that eliminated authorized protections loved by Hong Kong nationals and eliminated the provisions that required authorities to acquire a court docket order earlier than they will demand knowledge from web firms. In the course of the rebellion, some tech companies introduced they’d pause or cease the processing of information requests from Hong Kong authorities. Apple, nonetheless, didn’t be a part of the opposite tech companies and stated as an alternative that the corporate can be assessing the brand new legislation.

Apple’s refusal to affix different tech companies weakened its makes an attempt to forestall potential human rights violations. For instance, Telegram remains to be accessible by way of the App Retailer in Hong Kong as of this writing. It was additionally an necessary app utilized by the protesters to prepare themselves. The supply of Telegram in Hong Kong doesn’t free it from Apple’s reins. Since Apple didn’t pause disclosing knowledge to the authorities, it may nonetheless disclose the metadata of App Retailer customers if Chinese language (or Hong Kong) authorities request it. The metadata consists of necessary details about Telegram customers: the situation of the consumer, probably the identification of the consumer, and when and what number of instances the consumer downloaded the app. Such a disclosure wouldn’t essentially disclose the id of a given Telegram consumer, however it will disclose {that a} given id had put in Telegram or different apps. 

The Conceptual Framework

With out contemplating the granular ranges and the extra democratic nature of the U.S. method to platform governance, the instruments that China and the U.S. use are comparable. How these regulatory, governance instruments may be challenged is totally different. For instance, the manager orders that the U.S. president points may be challenged in an unbiased court docket; the legislation enforcement requests for knowledge disclosure can be challenged. The distinction is in Apple’s use of remedial processes to face up towards a legislation or to problem sure choices. In China, Apple hardly ever makes an attempt to or has the avenues to problem decrees or legislation enforcement choices.

Apple’s totally different approaches may be defined by a mixture of various incentive buildings and totally different political techniques. Apple has a higher incentive to be extra compliant with authorities orders in China than it has within the U.S. On many events, Apple has given in to authorities calls for for censorship, each by way of removing of content material from the App Retailer and by undermining the privateness of Chinese language customers. Apple’s incentive and method to buyer knowledge in China has modified radically since 2014. After the Edward Snowden revelations that 12 months, Apple introduced that it has by no means labored with the U.S. Nationwide Safety Company (NSA) to create a backdoor. Apple additionally explicitly says that it’s going to not work with any authorities company to entry its servers: “Apple has by no means labored with any authorities company from any nation to create a backdoor in any of our services or products. We’ve additionally by no means allowed entry to our servers. And we by no means will. It’s one thing we really feel very strongly about.” That stated, some years later it arrange a knowledge server in China that’s run by a state-owned agency.

One necessary motive for this evolution in Apple’s incentives could also be that the majority of Apple’s merchandise are assembled in China. Shedding entry to China’s labor market may paralyze the corporate’s manufacturing operations. Another excuse is that Chinese language authorized processes don’t depart Apple with many avenues to object, leading to—as within the case of Hong Kong—Apple not becoming a member of different actors in refusing to adjust to sure legal guidelines in collective protest. 

This evaluation illustrates that Apple’s approaches to self-governance in these two international locations differ broadly. These variations may be conceptualized utilizing the motivation evaluation of multinational companies (MNCs) and their impact on the MNC’s governance construction. 

Students equivalent to John Ruggie argue that international companies, together with Apple, put money into international locations with authoritarian regimes to safe the dedication of these governments by creating native financial embeddedness, by creating provide chains inside a rustic, and by having the federal government as one among their stakeholders. However these companies are often not capable of take part in native political processes and can’t affect native politics. The authoritarian regimes, nonetheless, can outsource governance to those MNCs—as China does with Apple. Outsourcing governance also can occur in international locations with out authoritarian regimes. The distinction is that Apple, in lots of situations, has resisted such makes an attempt in america. 

Outsourcing Governance

Outsourcing governance consists of an organization governing its customers’ habits in accordance with each formal and casual requests of the federal government. It’s in step with a shift seen in China from entrance restriction to operational intervention. As a substitute of restrictions on how MNCs can enter the market, or restrictions on the possession of the enterprise or throughout the trade, the Chinese language authorities promulgates rules that limit the operation of MNCs. 

Joseph Nye Jr. calls such regulated companies the devices of affect, when governments use companies to affect commerce, coverage and safety. The usage of companies as devices of affect shouldn’t be distinctive to China. Co-regulation or outsourced governance may be seen in each Europe and the U.S. Now and again, the legislatures outsource such governance by way of legal guidelines, such because the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which outsources copyright infringement rules to platform intermediaries. 

Outsourcing governance is possible when one of many events holds energy over the opposite. In additional democratic international locations, companies can affect political processes and resist authorities requests that will go towards their values. On account of market incentives, nonetheless, this will not be the case for Apple in China. 

China’s method to Apple and the App Retailer may be framed as “institutional governance outsourcing” whereby the federal government asks Apple to take regulatory actions. The query is, why has China been profitable in outsourcing governance to Apple, regardless that lots of its core values are opposite to Apple’s? There are three attainable causes: business incentives, financial embeddedness and differing values. 

Business Incentives

Apple has extra business incentives to be compliant with authorities orders in China than it has within the U.S. Market curiosity may additionally have a job in shaping how Apple interacts with and reacts to Chinese language authorities requests. As talked about earlier, dropping entry to China’s labor market may paralyze its operation. Some information studies even argue that no multinational company has as a lot stake in China’s market as Apple has, since China assembles practically all of Apple’s merchandise and Apple’s efficiency in China closely impacts its inventory costs.

Financial Embeddedness

Apple may not straight take part within the native political processes of China or have as a lot impact as it may possibly have on the U.S., as multinational companies and international companies often can’t take part straight in these political processes. However lack of direct participation doesn’t imply no participation in any respect or no affect on political processes. And regardless that the historically democratic processes equivalent to congressional hearings, legislative and judicial testimony, and a impartial adjudicatory course of are much less obtainable in China than they’re within the U.S., Apple can nonetheless affect Chinese language political processes. 

Within the absence of these conventional democratic processes, Apple should search for different avenues to affect the inner political processes of the international locations by which it operates. Embedding the federal government as a quasi-stakeholder within the company can present Apple with enterprise privileges, equivalent to extra lenient and privileged adjudicatory processes. Apple’s method to this technique was to create a powerful monopsony, turning into the one purchaser in a number of markets, together with for specialised semiconductor chips. One motive that Apple may grow to be a monopsonist was that the chips that Chinese language companies produced have been suitable solely with Apple merchandise and Apple was the one purchaser. Apple makes use of this energy informally to have an effect on political processes for its business curiosity, not essentially to guard the values it claims to have. 

Apple’s Differing Values

Formal establishments, governments, regulatory our bodies, companies and nongovernmental organizations can affect companies’ choices about their norms and values. The distinction between Apple’s method to governance within the U.S. and in China is that—in terms of App Retailer regulation—Apple is extra influenced by these formal establishments in China than it’s within the U.S., the place it has a sure autonomy and establishes its personal values and norms. In China, that autonomy is weaker. 


The instruments governments use to manage folks’s habits on-line are comparable, even in international locations as seemingly dissimilar as america and China. What differs is that incentive buildings within the U.S. and different democratic international locations give extra autonomy to non-public actors to problem authorities choices and affect them, whereas personal actors in China have fewer avenues to problem and affect authorities rules.

All in all, governments have their normal instruments equivalent to regulation, nationwide safety legal guidelines, govt orders, and decrees to manage the web within the U.S. and China. The most important distinction between the 2 international locations shouldn’t be authorities approaches however the routes by way of which authorities choices and Apple’s choices may be objected to by personal actors and members of civil society.