Apple's App Store in China has removed 27 LGBTQ+-related apps, either to meet the demand of the Chinese government or in a preemptive manner, a new report shows.
Research by the U.S.-based Fight for the Future, an advocacy group for digital rights, and China-based GreatFire, a nonprofit organization that tracks censorship in China, shows that only Saudi Arabia has more LGBTQ+ apps unavailable in their App Store.
According to the two groups' jointly-published report on Monday, the App Store enables government censorship of LGBTQ+ apps in 152 countries, in stark contrast to Apple's pro-LGBTQ+ efforts in the U.S.
Benjamin Ismail, GreatFire's campaign and advocacy director and Apple Censorship project coordinator, told Protocol that even though China is known for widespread and pervasive censorship, it's surprising that the country bans more LGBTQ+-related apps on the App Store than countries that criminalize homosexuality.
"It is our assumption that Apple's position in different countries varies and that the company feels more comfortable to ignore/refuse/delay some governments' requests than others," Ismail said.
An app being unavailable in one country doesn't necessarily mean that Apple censored it, however; it could also be because the developer decided not to make it available in that country. Ismail explained that their research didn't count some apps that were removed by their developers, and added that "the highest probability is that it was Apple [that] decided to remove the app."
"The few developers that talked to us told us that when they learned the app was not available, they didn't try to discuss it with Apple, thinking it would not change anything," Ismail said.
"We know some assume Apple is just 'complying with local laws' even though they never refer to the law they are complying with," Ismail added. "Some developers told us they didn't put their app in China, fearing it would cause trouble (and possibly get the entire app in trouble, including in other countries)."
An Apple spokesperson, however, told Protocol that Apple didn't remove the LGBTQ+ apps cited in the report as being unavailable in China. The spokesperson added that app owners often consciously make decisions not to make their app available in certain countries.
Update: This story was updated at 2:30 p.m. PT to include Apple's statement.