Audible, Holy Books Removed From Apple Store in China as Country Tightens Internet Rules

Amazon's audiobook service Audible and phone apps for reading holy books of Islam and Christianity were removed from the Apple store in mainland China as the country tightens its internet rules.

The makers of the apps for reading and listening to the Bible and Quran both said the apps were removed from Apple's China-based store at the government's request, reportedly due to restrictions on apps distributing books or magazines. Both developers said they planned to work with the government to get the apps reinstated.

Audible gave a similar reason Friday, and said in a statement that it had removed its app from the Apple store in mainland China last month "due to permit requirements."

Watchdog website AppleCensorship was the first to detect the removals. The website monitors Apple's app store to detect when apps have been blocked, especially in China and other countries with authoritarian governments.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Audible Logo
Audible and apps for listening to and reading the Bible and Quran were removed from mainland China's Apple store as the country tightens its internet censorship rules. General view of Audible brand sign and logo over a colorful window during the Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2020 in Park City, Utah. Mat Hayward/Getty Images

Apple didn't return requests for comment Friday. Neither did China's embassy in the U.S.

China's government has long sought to control the flow of information online but is increasingly stepping up its enforcement of the internet sector in other ways, making it hard to determine the causes for a particular app's removal.

Chinese regulators this year have sought to strengthen data privacy restrictions and limit how much time children can play video games. They are also exerting greater control over the algorithms used by tech firms to personalize and recommend content.

The popular U.S. language-learning app Duolingo disappeared from Apple's China store over the summer, as have many video game apps.

Pakistan Data Management Services, which makes the Quran Majeed app, said it is awaiting more information from China's internet authority about how it can be restored. The app has nearly 1 million users in China and about 40 million worldwide, said the Karachi-based company.

Those who had already downloaded the app can still use it, said Hasan Shafiq Ahmed, the company's head of growth and relationships.

"We are looking to figure out what documentation is needed to get approval from Chinese authorities so the app can be restored," he said in an email.

The maker of a Bible app said it removed it from the Apple store in China after learning from Apple's App Store review process that it needed special permission to distribute an app with "book or magazine content." Olive Tree Bible Software, based in Spokane, Washington, said it's now reviewing the requirements to obtain the necessary permit "with the hope that we can restore our app to China's App Store and continue to distribute the Bible worldwide."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned Apple's actions, saying the company was enabling China's religious persecution of Muslims and others.

"This decision must be reversed," said a statement from CAIR's national deputy director, Edward Ahmed Mitchell. "If American corporations don't grow a spine and stand up to China right now, they risk spending the next century subservient to the whims of a fascist superpower."

This week, Microsoft said that it would shut down its main LinkedIn service in China later this year, citing a "significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China."

Unlike LinkedIn, which has been offering a specialized Chinese service since 2014, Amazon-owned Audible said it does not have a dedicated service for customers in China.

Apple Store China
Amazon’s audiobook service Audible and phone apps for reading the holy books of Islam and Christianity have disappeared from the Apple store in mainland China, in the latest examples of the country’s tightening rules for internet firms. In this September 28 file photo, people wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus try out the latest iPhone 13 handsets at an Apple Store in Beijing. Andy Wong/AP Photo