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December 16, 2021

Tim Cook
Chief Executive Officer, Apple Inc.
One Apple Park Way
Cupertino, CA95014-0642

Mr. Cook,

We are writing to inquire about Apple’s content moderation policies as applied in mainland
China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Reports and research allege censorship by Apple of its products
in ways not required under Chinese or Taiwanese law and in contradiction of its own statements
claiming to support human rights and free expression.

For example, in its September 2020 Our Commitment to Human Rights statement1 Apple
expressed:

[w]e work every day to make quality products…available to our users in a way that
respects their human rights…we try to find the solution that best serves our users—their
privacy, their ability to express themselves, and their access to reliable information and
helpful technology.

It is commendable that Apple makes such public commitments to human rights—but public
statements are not enough on their own. Researchers from the University of Toronto, led by
Professor Ronald Diebert, found that Apple censored more than one thousand words or phrases,
and prevented them from being engraved on Apple products at the point of manufacture or sale.2
Of these, about one half were categorized as “political” and the other half as “social.” Words
from these two categories are either direct references or allusions to Chinese Communist Party
(CCP) leadership, the CCP generally, dissidents or independent news organizations, or terms
relating to the freedom of religion and the promotion of democracy and human rights. Words
like “Falun Gong,” “Ai Weiwei,” “Freedom of the Press,” and “Human Rights” were found to be
censored without explanation.

1
Apple Inc., Our Commitment to Human Rights, September 2020,
https://s2.q4cdn.com/470004039/files/doc_downloads/gov_docs/Apple-Human-Rights-
Policy.pdf
2
Jeffrey Knockel, Lotus Ruan, Engrave Danger, An analysis of Apple engraving censorship
across six regions, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto
(Aug. 18, 2021), https://citizenlab.ca/2021/08/engrave-danger-an-analysis-of-apple-engraving-
censorship-across-six-regions/
Furthermore, the research substantiated open-source reports alleging Apple has been censoring
engravings outside of mainland China. “In 2020, a Hong Kong resident going by the alias ‘Mr.
Chen’ reported that he requested to have the phrase ‘liberate HKERS’ engraved on an Apple
product.3 Even though Apple’s automatic keyword filtering did not censor the phrase, an Apple
employee later contacted Mr. Chen and told him that the ‘higher-ups did not approve’ of the
message.” The research also showed that even in Taiwan, Apple customers have been prevented
from engraving references to Xi Jingping. This is particularly disturbing given China’s intention
to subjugate Taiwan.

In Apple’s Our Commitment to Human Rights statement, Apple states, “[w]e’re required to
comply with local laws, and at times there are complex issues about which we may disagree with
governments and other stakeholders on the right path forward.” But any censorship of both
Hongkonger and Taiwanese customers has no basis in either Chinese law or international law
and directly contradicts Apple’s human rights commitments.

Many American companies operate within Communist China and the surrounding Asian
markets. These companies all make choices on how to navigate the draconian and totalitarian
Chinese Communist Party while either doing business with them, or not. Some companies, such
as Meta (Facebook) and Twitter are banned in China or don’t attempt to operate in China, opting
to not submit their company and customers to the policy objectives and cultural constraints of the
CCP. Apple, however, appears to go beyond legal mandates and regulations established within
China.

For these reasons, please respond by January 10, 2021, with information and answers to the
following:

1. Please explain if and why Apple undertook the actions of censorship described in the
research and reports above.
2. A complete list of all words and phrases in Chinese (inclusive of all dialects), with
English translations, that are censored and prohibited from being engraved on Apple
products in the Chinese market by Chinese law.
3. A complete list of all words and phrases in Chinese (inclusive of all dialects), with
English translations, that are censored and prohibited from being engraved on Apple
products in the Chinese market by Apple policy, but not by Chinese law.
4. A complete list of all words and phrases in Chinese (inclusive of all dialects), with
English translations, that are censored and prohibited from being engraved on Apple
products in the Hong Kong market by Chinese or Hong Kong law.
5. A complete list of all words and phrases in Chinese (inclusive of all dialects), with
English translations, that are censored and prohibited from being engraved on Apple

3
Apple Pencil Engraving “Liberate HKERS” rejected by staff: No approval from above, HK-
Apple Daily (Oct. 29, 2020), accessed via The Wayback Machine,
https://web.archive.org/web/20201029235405/https:/hk.appledaily.com/local/20201029/GHTTF
R4KXJBAVBZ3GXRJI7GKWU/
products in the Hong Kong market by Apple policy, but not by Chinese or Hong Kong
law.
6. A complete list of all words and phrases in Chinese (inclusive of all dialects), with
English translations, that are censored and prohibited from being engraved on Apple
products in the Taiwan market by Chinese or Taiwanese law.
7. A complete list of all words and phrases in Chinese (inclusive of all dialects), with
English translations, that are censored and prohibited from being engraved on Apple
products in the Taiwan market by Apple policy, but not by Chinese or Taiwanese law.
8. A copy of the terms of service and/or user policy manual which outlines Apple’s
censorship policy for the Chinese, Hong Kong, and Taiwan markets respectively.
9. A written explanation of why Apple censors content that is religious in nature or that
advocates for democracy in east Asian markets, with specific regard to why Apple goes
beyond what is required by the CCP.

It is our belief that the rights to free speech, free exercise of religion, and the participation of
individuals in politics free of violent and oppressive forces is critical to the maintenance of
human rights and the preservation of liberty. Apple promotes its engraving service to the
customer by encouraging a “meaningful mix of emoji, text, and numbers.”4 Free political
expression is meaningful. Apple expressed in 2010 that it was thrilled to offer engraving services
to Chinese customers and that “personalized engraving” made “Apple Store…a great destination
for our customers in China.”5 We hope this can truly be the case for Chinese, Hongkonger, and
Taiwanese customers and that Apple, as an American company, will cease violating its own
commitments to free expression and human rights.

Sincerely,

__________________________________ __________________________________
Victoria Spartz Jim Banks
Member of Congress Member of Congress

__________________________________ __________________________________
W. Gregory Steube Ken Buck
Member of Congress Member of Congress

4
Apple Inc., Engraving and Gift Wrap, Retrieved November 12, 2021,
https://www.apple.com/shop/engraving-and-gift-wrap
5
Apple Inc., Apple Launches Online Store in China, October 26, 2010,
https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2010/10/26Apple-Launches-Online-Store-in-China/
__________________________________ __________________________________
Louie Gohmert Jason Smith
Member of Congress Member of Congress

__________________________________ __________________________________
Carlos Gimenez Burgess Owens
Member of Congress Member of Congress

__________________________________
Randy Weber
Member of Congress

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