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Summary:

Echoes of the conflict with Google surface in the Chinese government’s attempt to crackdown on “obscene pornographic content” that it says is coming in through Apple’s App Store.

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Apple is under scrutiny again by the Chinese government, but not for poor customer service: it’s for pornography.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that an ongoing investigation is underway, which has caught up with Apple and other other small companies for providing ways to access pornographic content. According to the report:

A government regulator named Apple Inc.’s app store as a source of “obscene pornographic” content late last month and ordered it to remove the content, submit a report about the violation, and take measures to prevent future violations.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.

The accusation is somewhat ironic considering Apple’s attitude toward porn. Steve Jobs is well-known for his stated belief that Apple has “moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone” and other devices with access to the App Store. It’s true that Apple has a difficult time being super consistent about policing its enormous App Store for that kind of content, but it certainly tries.

While it’s the Chinese government that’s undertaking a campaign against “obscene” content, the WSJ notes that the Chinese press — which is basically an extension of the government — is taking a more subdued tone with the case so far. That lies in contrast with China Central TV and several newspapers’ attempts to steamroll Apple over iPhone warranty and customer service issues last month.

It’s hard to tell where this is headed. If Apple moves to improve the filters on App Store content in China, will the government be satisfied? Or will it require another dutiful apology from the CEO?

As many will note, these pair of incidents seems awfully similar to the road China went down with Google. The same accusation of helping to distribute pornographic content was made against the company in 2009, and it was ordered to remove certain search results. Following hacking attacks from within China and continual disagreement with the government, Google just took its search business out of China and over to Hong Kong.

It’s hard to see Apple taking its business out of China; the country is massively important to Apple’s future. But Apple isn’t used to being pushed around by governments, so the big question will be how far Apple is willing to go to comply with China’s rules in order to do business there.

  1. China Mobile deal done yet!

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  2. For my part, I’ve been getting Black Sabbath music recordings as recommendations, instead of music that matches my taste. Apple’s search quality is definitely going downhill. And Apple, you’re welcome.

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