Visiting China? Apple News will be blocked

Apple’s news and information app bumps up against Chinese censorship rules.

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Apple’s impressive rise in China isn’t coming without some sacrifice, as visitors are discovering that the Apple News app doesn’t work on the country’s networks.

Although Apple News is only available for U.S. customers at the moment, the New York Times reports that users can still access the app while traveling overseas. One exception is in China, where users get an error message saying the app isn’t supported.

One user, entrepreneur Larry Salibra, documented his own experience while traveling between Hong Kong and mainland China. Apple News functioned normally while connected to China Mobile Hong Kong’s LTE network. Once he connected to China Mobile’s Mainland network, the app refused to refresh.

What’s interesting about this method of blocking is that it’s based on the user’s network instead of the device’s IP address. That means the app still gets blocked even if you’re roaming from a network outside mainland China, or using a VPN. Other Apple services, such as the Beats1 radio component of Apple Music, are blocked based on IP address, so they continued to function in mainland China for Salibra.

The Times cited an unnamed source in confirming that Apple was disabling its News app in China, though Apple itself has not officially commented.

Why this matters: The blocking of Apple News underscores the dilemma U.S. companies face when trying to lure the potentially lucrative Chinese market. A principled stand against censorship would be difficult for Apple, which drew 27 percent of its net income from China last quarter, but would also be arguably unfair for Chinese citizens who increasingly want to use Apple products.

We’ve seen censorship issues play out before, most notably with Google scaling back much of its China operations five years ago. Recent rumors suggest the company is now eying a comeback.

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