Two RSS reader apps, Reeder and Fiery Feeds, said this week that content that is deemed “illegal” in the country has been removed from their iOS apps in China. RSS feed readers, or Real Easy Syndication, are especially disturbing to the authority because they obtain content from third-party websites, enabling users to circumvent the Great Firewall of China and access banned information otherwise.
Those who use RSS readers in China are scarce, as the majority of 940 million Chinese internet users receive their dose of news via domestic services as of late, from algorithmic news aggregators such as ByteDance’s Toutiao, WeChat ‘s built-in content subscription function, to local mainstream apps.
New waves of app removals can be caused by major political events and regulatory changes, but it is unknown why this week the two RSS feed readers were removed. Back in 2017, Inoreader, a similar service, was removed from Apple’s Chinese App Store. The local app store also makes Feedly inaccessible. The latest incidents may well be part of the business of Apple-as-usual in China: cleaning up, regardless of their scope, international information services operating outside Beijing ‘s jurisdiction.
Apple has recently come under criticism for deferring to China’s demands for censorship, a big market for its sales of smartphones and games. The behemoth has purged VPN services, video games, and podcast apps that lacked local authorization from its Chinese App Store. Before Apple even considers distributing them to Chinese consumers, podcasts must be on a local hosting service. In other words, in China, the iOS publishing process for apps and podcasts is increasingly subject to scrutiny by Beijing.
At this point, the latest commitment by Apple to “freedom of information and speech” will give its investors who have raised concerns about Apple’s app takedowns in China little assurance.