china-flag-apple-logo1The LA Times and New York Times, among other news sources, report that Apple’s iBooks and iTunes Movie services were suspended in China last week, just seven months after they launched.

An explanation for the shutdown is nonexistent, as the Chinese government has not issued a statement on the matter (though the NYT cites anonymous sources to say that China’s state-controlled media agency is definitely behind the closure), and all Apple says is that it wants to get the services available again as soon as possible. However, the South China Morning Post ties it to a controversial Hong Kong science fiction movie, Ten Years, that is banned in China but just became available via iTunes in Hong Kong.

Observers such as the Rhodium Group’s Daniel H. Rosen suggest that China is anxious to control the content its citizens see, and favoring its own companies such as Huawei, Alibaba, and Tencent over outsiders like Apple. Meanwhile, scrutiny of outside companies such as Cisco and Microsoft has increased since the Edward Snowden leaks revealed the US government used them to conduct cyberespionage.

Apple has had an easier time of it than most of these companies—perhaps because it manufactures so many products there?—but even it isn’t immune. Apart from the current shutdown, Apple recently revealed it had refused a source code request by China’s government within the last two years.

When it launched in China, iTunes Movies provided high-definition movie rentals at the equivalent of 77 cents, and purchases at $2.77, and e-books started at 8 cents. Apple offered free rentals of the Chinese film The Taking of Tiger Mountain to promote the service. iBooks had a good selection of Chinese books and foreign novels, including the first Chinese publication of Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series in digital format.

The shutdown has left many anxious Chinese customers wondering if they can get refunds for purchases they hadn’t been able to download yet. It remains to be seen if and when Apple can get permission to reopen them.


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