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Apple Removes Podcast Apps in China

FILE - People line up to enter a newly opened Apple Store in Wangfujing shopping district in Beijing, Oct. 20, 2012.

A popular podcasting platform, Pocket Casts, has been removed from Apple's app store in China at Beijing's request, according to the company's Twitter thread.

Pocket Casts confirmed Wednesday on Twitter that the request was made by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), Beijing's top internet watchdog agency that controls which apps can be accessed on iOS and other platforms in the country. "We were contacted by the CAC through Apple around 2 days before the app was removed from the store," it said.

Before Pocket Casts was removed, another podcast player for iPhone, Castro, said on June 4 that its app was also removed from the Chinese app store by Apple. Castro said about 10% of its user base is in China. Asked why its app was taken down, Castro said in a Twitter comment on June 6 that they think it might have been the company's support of the protests in Hong Kong, but "we were not given specifics."

Pocket Casts, originally developed by an Austrian company, was acquired by a group of American public radio companies in 2018. It is currently ranked 82nd most popular in the podcast news app section on Apple's U.S website, where the Twitter app is number one. The app was not searchable within Apple's Chinese app store at the time of writing.

Apple could not be immediately reached for comment.

This is not the first time that Apple has removed an app from the app store following a request by the Chinese government. According to a Transparency Report released on Apple's website, for the first six months of 2019, the company received 56 requests from the Chinese government seeking removal of a third-party application offered on the app store related to alleged or suspected legal violations. In comparison, it received only two requests from Vietnam and five from Russia. Apple, by its own account, took down 194 apps in mainland China, none in Vietnam and 16 in Russia.

The podcast removal comes amid fresh criticism from U.S.-based Chinese activists who said that Zoom, a U.S. video communication company, censors video talks on Hong Kong protests and China's Tiananmen Square crackdown.

The video-chat app briefly blocked an account of a Chinese human rights leader and then later restored the account on Wednesday. According to The New York Times, Zoom said in a statement on Wednesday that it had been following local laws when it suspended the account. "It is not in Zoom's power to change the laws of governments opposed to free speech," Zoom said.