Great Firewall of China silences iTunes

Posted by: Frederik Balfour on August 21, 2008

In what appears to be the latest example of the long arm of Chinese censorship, the authorities have been blocking access to the iTunes library for the past several days. According to discussions on Apple’s online support page, users based in China who normally access the iTunes store using overseas registered accounts have been unable to download songs.
As you scroll down through the thread of the frustrated postings, eventually one user posted the following reply he says is from Apple support team member named Bryan.

My name is Bryan and I understand that you have not been able to connect to the iTunes store for the last couple days and that you are concerned that it would be an issue with China blocking the iTunes store. I’m sorry to hear that and I’m happy to assist you with this today.

ITunes is not being blocked in China from our end, but access to the iTunes Store IS restricted in some areas in China. This would also explain why it’s happening to your friends there as well.

I would advise that you contact your ISP about this matter. Please also note though that accessing the US iTunes Store outside of the geographic region of the United States is not supported, and that attempting to access it while in China is at your own risk.

The iTunes Store Sales and Service Policies are available for you to review:

Terms of Sale
http://www.apple.com/legal/itunes/us/sales.html

Terms of Service
http://www.apple.com/legal/itunes/us/service.html

Thank you for being a valued iTunes Store customer. I hope that you have found the above information helpful and that you have a great day!

Kind Regards,

Bryan
iTunes Store Customer Support


So why the sudden clampdown? The most plausible explanation is that the Chinese want to prevent access to iTunes in retaliation for its decision to offer a Tibet Solidarity album that was released on the iTunes store earlier this month. The album entitled “Songs of Tibet” features artists including Sting, John Mayer, Alanis Morrisette and Moby, has been widely popular since its release. But when word got out that 40 Olympic athletes took advantage of an offer to download the music for free, it triggered a backlash from Chinese netizens. For more on this click on this China.org website.

So far I have not been able to get any official comment from Apple, but I’ll certainly update you once they get back to me. You can bet they aren’t welcoming the publicity. Apple launched its first stand-alone store in Beijing on the eve of the Olympics, though some of its most popular products, including the iPhone, are not available for sale. [Check the story from my colleague Bruce Einhorn about rogue iPhone sales Protracted negotiations on getting the iPhone for sale officially continue, and you can bet that Apple doesn’t want to irritate the authorities by complaining about how the firewall is preventing a bunch of expatriates from accessing iTunes when it might jeopardize Apple’s chances of tapping the huge domestic market for the iPhone.

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Reader Comments

LightOn

August 21, 2008 04:30 PM

I do not see why the government is doing this. Most Chinese people's belief in Tibet as a part of China is so stubborn, that listening to a couple of songs would not change that.

The issue is not about blocking information flow. It is really about deconstructing a belief system. It seems like most Chinese people would not change their view on Falungong, Tibet, or even issues such as freedom or human rights after being exposed to materials from Western and other sources.

www.xiangji.org

Stephen

August 21, 2008 04:37 PM

Where is the rest of this article? Is it normal to end an "expose" with a run on sentence that does not clarify the situation in it's entirety?

Dave

August 22, 2008 12:25 AM

This is the reason of why Georgia attacked Russia and Russia had to respond. I don't understand why certain people in the West like to use minority group like Tibet or Georgia as a pawn to create rift with the mother ship (China and Russia). Everybody will be better off if we do not keep on fanning people to separate and disintegrate their own country. How would you feel if foreigners keep on fanning native American to separate Alaska from US? Western people, please mind your own business. Fellow Americans, we have HUGE problems at home (Iraq war, education, etc), there is no need to disintegrate other countries. Stop this nonsense.

melv

August 22, 2008 12:58 AM

Chinese using iPhone eh. I'll tell you what is going to happen. The Chinese government is going to take the "kill switch" from Jobs and zap all the iPhones in the world. I've long seen this coming but this is just more proof of my premonitions about Apple operating in the ancient city of China.

ellena

August 22, 2008 06:35 AM

Well, You have to live by our rules when you are in China

Fritz Helmholtz

August 22, 2008 09:06 AM

And you have to live by US American rules when you are in the US.

Please, dear Americans, clear up YOUR OWN PLACE first. (Spying on your own citizens' phones, copying disks of foreign laptops in customs, Gitmo, ...).

The assumption that Tibet is not part of China is just another element of US imperialism, now brought forward by so-called progressive pop culture and the likes of Obama.

Greetings from Germany

ok, blame america....

August 22, 2008 11:12 AM

Fine, blame us americans for meddling in places we ought not meddle in, but the UN gets mad at us for not fixing everything, and in turn that gives the world the right to blame us. so forgive us for taking the worlds freedom on our shoulders as the highest priority. if we don't, it seems no one else will...

JC

August 22, 2008 11:30 AM

This is nothing more than a PR stunt by International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) and Art of Peace Foundation. Unfortunately, the Chinese government took the bait and made it a headline.

AP casually left out the fact that these 40 Olympians were offered to download the $11.99 album for free (http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/article4579783.ece). So not only "free Tibet" is trendy, it is now also free.

So much for "an act of solidarity".

Nick

August 22, 2008 07:59 PM

I assume the Chinese government is trying to restrict podcasts.

Teddy R

August 23, 2008 05:47 AM

Well, all you good folks won't have to worry your pointy little heads about that anymore. Not after I take my big stick and wack all my nosey countrypersons back into line and get them back where they belong over home here. That way we can see to solving our little domestic problems we seem to be neglecting of late, and you-all can go about your business without our meddling and fetching your little fannies out of the fire every so often. Then when we get done with our problems, we'll check in with you-all and see how things are going. TaTa For Now

Mundashie

August 25, 2008 09:17 PM

I was at the Apple store in Beijing and the Genius Bar told me that "itunes is down due to some port configuration, probably related to Olympic issues. It should be back up in a few days after the Olympics." Everybody is getting all political here. the important thing to remember is that in China the government has full authority to do whatever they feel is right, as anybody living on Chinese soil must respect what they do.

abner

August 26, 2008 02:28 AM

Oh man..even the chinese government got sick of two many Ipods coming out every now and then. ha ha

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BusinessWeek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies. Eye on Asia’s bloggers include Asia regional editor Bruce Einhorn, Tokyo reporter Ian Rowley, Korea bureau chief Moon Ihlwan, Asia News Editor and China Bureau Chief. Dexter Roberts, and Hong Kong-based Asia correspondent Frederik Balfour.

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