Amazon’s audiobook service Audible and phone apps for reading holy books of Islam and Christianity have been removed from its Apple Store in mainland China as the country tightens its internet rules.
The makers of the apps for reading and listening to the Bible and Quran both said the apps were removed from Apple’s Chinese store at the request of the government, allegedly due to restrictions on apps that distribute books or magazines. Both developers said they plan to work with the government to restore the apps.
Audible gave a similar reason on Friday, saying in a statement that it removed its app from the Apple Store in mainland China last month “due to licensing requirements.”
Watchdog website AppleCensorship was the first to discover the deletions. The website monitors Apple’s app store to detect when apps are blocked, especially in China and other countries with authoritarian governments.
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Apple did not return any requests for comment on Friday. Neither does the Chinese embassy in the US
The Chinese government has long tried to control the flow of information online, but is increasingly enforcing the internet sector in other ways, making it difficult to determine the causes of the removal of a particular app.
Chinese regulators have tried this year to strengthen data privacy restrictions and limit the time children can play video games. They also exert more control over the algorithms used by tech companies to personalize and recommend content.
The popular American language learning app Duolingo disappeared from the Apple Store in China last summer, along with many other video game apps.
Pakistan Data Management Services, which makes the Quran Majeed app, said it is waiting for more information from the Chinese internet authority on how to restore it. The app has nearly 1 million users in China and about 40 million worldwide, according to the Karachi-based company.
Those who have already downloaded the app can still use it, said Hasan Shafiq Ahmed, the company’s head of growth and relations.
“We are looking into what documentation is needed to get approval from the Chinese authorities so that the app can be reinstated,” he said in an email.
The creator of a bible app said he removed it from the Apple Store in China after learning from Apple’s App Store review process that it needed special permission to run an app with “book or magazine content” spreading. Olive Tree Bible Software, based in Spokane, Washington, said it is now reviewing the requirements to obtain the necessary license “in the hope that we can restore our app to the Chinese App Store and continue to distribute the Bible worldwide.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned Apple’s actions, saying the company facilitated China’s religious persecution of Muslims and others.
“This decision must be reversed,” said a statement from CAIR’s national deputy director Edward Ahmed Mitchell. “If American companies don’t get a backbone and stand up to China now, they risk subserving the next century to the whims of a fascist superpower.”
This week, Microsoft said it would close its main LinkedIn service in China later this year, citing a “significantly more difficult work environment and increased compliance requirements in China”.
Unlike LinkedIn, which has been offering a specialized Chinese service since 2014, Amazon-owned Audible said it has no dedicated service for customers in China.