January 4, 2017 / 10:26 PM / in 7 months

Apple pulls New York Times apps in China after government request

BEIJING (Reuters) - Apple Inc (AAPL.O) has removed the New York Times Co's (NYT.N) English- and Chinese-language news apps from its iTunes store in China following a request from the local authorities, the companies said separately on Thursday.

The apps, which the newspaper said were removed on Dec. 23, are the latest Western services to fall foul of Chinese authorities, whose other scalps include Apple's own iBooks and iTunes Movies stores which have been blocked since April.

Their removal comes just over a month after the Cyberspace Administration of China called for greater media scrutiny, citing fears of social disorder, moral harm and threats to national security. The internet regulator did not respond to a faxed request for comment about the Times' apps.

"The development of the internet in China must respect China's laws and regulations, in principle," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in response to a question about the apps.

New York Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy told Reuters that the newspaper has asked Apple to reconsider.

"The request by the Chinese authorities to remove our apps is part of their wider attempt to prevent readers in China from accessing independent news coverage by The New York Times of that country," Murphy said.

The government has blocked the Times' websites since 2012 after a series of articles on the wealth of the family of then-Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, the New York Times reported.

An illustration shows a person looking at a computer screen in Beijing showing an Apple iTunes store message saying that the New York Times app is not available in the Chinese store, in China January 5, 2017.Thomas Peter/Illustration

"We have been informed that the app is in violation of local regulations," Apple spokesman Fred Sainz in California told Reuters.

An Apple spokeswoman in China declined to comment on specific reasons or which regulatory body made the request.

Apple has previously removed news apps from its China app store, but none as high-profile as the New York Times. At least three other apps have been removed from the app store in recent years on the grounds of "illegal content", according to news reports and the apps' developers.

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Apps from other international publications whose websites are blocked, including CNN, The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, were still available on Thursday.

Chinese mainstream media has not reported the app removal but it was discussed widely on social media.

"This must be coming from the request of The Wall right?" said one user on microblogging service Weibo, referring to state-backed internet censorship. "Apple has made enough money in China, it's OK for it to take the blame this time for the sake of the money."

Other users said they would attempt to change their country of residence within the app store to restore access.

While the New York Times' websites have been blocked, mirroring sites managed by anti-censorship advocates have periodically made their content available.

Reporting by Cate Cadell and Aishwarya Venugopal; Additional Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Christopher Cushing

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