Apple apologises to China

"We recognize that some people may have viewed our lack of communication as arrogant".

After a two week long attack from China's media and regulators, Apple CEO Tim Cook has issued this apology to Chinese customers. He had little choice - China is Apple's second largest market after the US (making up 16 per cent of Apple's sales in 2012), and the attacks showed no sign of slowing.

Here's China Daily on Sunday:

The China Consumer's Association (CCA) has asked Apple Inc. to 'sincerely apologize to Chinese consumers' and 'thoroughly correct its problems,' after the US firm took little action to address waves of criticism. The CCA said that, in 2012, it twice urged Apple to properly handle the complaints but only received halfhearted replies, with the real problems unsolved.

And here's the People's Daily on Monday:

It remains to be seen whether this global tech giant will be pressurized to respond to the complaints, as China market becomes an ever-bigger part of its global operation.

On Tuesday, Apple gave in. Here are some extracts from the apology:

To our valued customers in China: In the past two weeks, we have received a significant amount of feedback about our repair and warranty practices in China. We have thoughtfully considered the feedback, carefully reviewed the return, repair and replacement policies with regulators, and examined how we communicate our hardware warranties as well as manage our service provider compliance. In the process of studying the issues, we recognize that some people may have viewed our lack of communication as arrogant, or as a sign that we didn't care about or value their feedback. We sincerely apologize to our customers for any concern or confusion we may have caused.

If a customer's iPhone cannot be repaired quickly by replacing a component, then Apple provides a repair subassembly, consisting of all-new parts attached to the back of the customer's existing iPhone 4 or 4S. However, it has been suggested that since the repair subassembly is nearly a full replacement, it would be better for our customers to receive a replacement unit instead. So, starting this month, Apple will upgrade our iPhone 4 and 4S service kits to full replacement units with all-new parts and a new one-year warranty starting from the date of replacement.

Customer satisfaction, which is our most important measure of success, has been exceptionally high for these repairs -- almost 90 percent on average.

It's clear this is mostly political - Apple's new repair and warranty policies in China will actually now be better than the US version.  As the Economist noted "It is not unusual for foreign companies to come under occasional attack in China. Sometimes, this is well deserved—as when, last year, KFC was exposed for supply-chain lapses that led chickens of dubious quality to be served in its restaurants. But the CCTV exposé, which discussed warranty-repair policies, did not find anything remotely as rotten at the core of Apple’s China business."

An Apple logo in Beijing. Photograph: Getty Images
Photo: Getty
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Amber Rudd's ignorance isn't just a problem for the laws she writes

Politicians' lack of understanding leads to the wrong laws - and leaves real problems unchecked. 

Amber Rudd’s interview with Andrew Marr yesterday is not going to feature in her highlights reel, that is for certain. Her headline-grabbing howler was her suggesting was that to fight terror “the best people…who understand the necessary hashtags” would stop extremist material “ever being put up, not just taken down”, but the entire performance was riddled with poorly-briefed errors.

During one particularly mystifying exchange, Rudd claimed that she wasn’t asking for permission to “go into the Cloud”, when she is, in fact, asking for permission to go into the Cloud.

That lack of understanding makes itself felt in the misguided attempt to force tech companies to install a backdoor in encrypted communications. I outline some of the problems with that approach here, and Paul Goodman puts it well over at ConservativeHome, the problem with creating a backdoor is that “the security services would indeed be able to travel down it.  So, however, might others – the agencies serving the Chinese and Russian governments, for example, not to mention non-state hackers and criminals”.

But it’s not just in what the government does that makes ministers’ lack of understanding of tech issues a problem. As I’ve written before, there is a problem where hate speech is allowed to flourish freely on new media platforms. After-the-fact enforcement means that jihadist terrorism and white supremacist content can attract a large audience on YouTube and Facebook before it is taken down, while Twitter is notoriously sluggish about removing abuse and hosts a large number of extremists on its site. At time of writing, David Duke, the former head of the Ku Klux Klan, has free use of YouTube to post videos with titles such as “CNN interview on Bannon exposes Jewish bias”, “Will the white race survive?” and “Stop the genocide of European mankind”. It’s somewhat odd, to put it mildly, that WhatsApp is facing more heat for a service that is enjoyed by and protects millions of honest consumers while new media is allowed to be intensely relaxed about hosting hate speech.

Outside of the field of anti-terror, technological illiteracy means that old-fashioned exploitation becomes innovative “disruption” provided it is facilitated by an app. Government and opposition politicians simultaneously decry old businesses’ use of zero-hours contracts and abuse of self-employment status to secure the benefits of a full-time employee without having to bear the costs, while hailing and facilitating the same behaviour provided the company in question was founded after 2007.

As funny as Rudd’s ill-briefed turn on the BBC was, the consequences are anything but funny. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.