In December 2020, Apple took down over 46,000 gaming apps because they failed to obtain the necessary license to operate in China.
Apple also removed a Quran app late last year at the request of Chinese authorities.
“I think the regulatory framework is indeed the reason they left, and it’s a consequence of the stricter measures imposed by the state through the latest privacy law,” said Mrs Impiombato.
“The new law has increased the burdens. Especially for companies operating outside of China trying to comply, it may be too costly.”
Chinese censorship of LGBTIQ+ content
Some members of the LGBTIQ+ community fear the prospect of the Chinese government accessing their personal information, according to Cedric Yin-Cheng, chairman of the Australia and New Zealand Tongzhi Rainbow Alliance.
“If Grindr has to hand over my information to Chinese authorities, I wouldn’t feel comfortable using it,” he told SBS News.
“In China, it’s not uncommon for Chinese police to use dating apps and arrest people for what they call ‘soliciting sex’.”
Although homosexuality is not considered a crime, same-sex marriage remains illegal in China. Only 5% of homosexuals in China choose to “go out”,
Chinese company Beijing Kunlun Tech bought Grindr in 2016 for more than A$140 million (US$100 million), but sold it to a US-based company in 2020 after US authorities raised concerns. security concerns regarding the potential sharing of personal information.
in 2018, after it was revealed, the company shared people’s data, including HIV status, without users’ consent to two external companies.
“I would never publicly display my sexuality in China. It would put me in danger,” Cédric said.
“People are very discreet on apps. They don’t want to share photos or talk about their sexuality.”
BlueCity CEO Ma Baoli, China’s largest dating app for gay men, at BlueCity headquarters in Beijing. Source: AFP,Getty
The Chinese government has shut down other gay dating apps and organizations, while Chinese apps have also censored LGBTIQ+ content.
LGBTIQ+ dating app Zank was suspended in 2017 after being accused of hosting pornographic content.
Messaging platform QQ banned terms such as “LGBTQ” and “gay” last year.
Last July, WeChat shut down dozens of accounts run by university students posting on LGBTIQ+ topics, with an error message claiming the content had been blocked “after receiving relevant complaints”.
LGBT Rights Advocacy China shut down its social media accounts last November on WeChat and Weibo, announcing, “We are deeply sorry to tell everyone that Queer Advocacy Online will stop all our work indefinitely.
The group had advocated for same-sex marriage and fought workplace discrimination by helping individuals sue their former employers,
This photo taken on December 10, 2020 shows employees working at BlueCity’s headquarters in Beijing. Source: AFP,Getty
Blued – a gay dating app – is an exception to the rule.
The app has survived by becoming more than just a technology company, with HIV testing offices in Beijing and an online database that connects users to other testing centers across the country.
“They promoted HIV prevention and provided HIV education,” Cédric said.
“I think it’s a really good survival angle there. I just hope they don’t get taken out in the future.”
What it’s like to be LGBTIQ+ in China
Cédric spent much of his time in mainland China and Hong Kong before moving to Australia at the age of 19.
He said that during his first year of a teaching degree in China, he was sent to a school and asked to teach students about LGBTIQ+ issues and sexuality.
“I was told to say being LGBTIQ was wrong and if students know someone who is LGBTIQ they should report them to school,” he said.
“I refused to do it and got fired.”
Cedric said stories like his are not uncommon and there is still a huge stigma for the LGBTIQ+ community in China.
“Even nowadays in Chinese workplaces, people are afraid to disclose their sexuality for fear of losing their jobs or bringing this stigma home,” he said.
“There is no law against discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation in China. There is no way to report cases.”
People take part in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Parade in Hong Kong on November 6, 2015. Source: AFP
He said the general expectation in Chinese society is to go to college, find a good job, get married and have children.
“Being LGBT could mean you deviate from that social norm,” he said.
“People look at us and say ‘hey, the LGBTIQ+ population doesn’t breed children, they don’t conform to societal reforms’.”
Cedric now lives in Australia and is married to his girlfriend, something he “never imagined” for himself when living in China.
“It was scary back home,” he said.
“There was more progress and talk about same-sex relationships in 2018…but there are more taboos about same-sex relationships now, which is sad to see.”
SBS News has reached out to Apple for comment.