Although it’s Chinese policy driving the restrictions, data privacy advocates say that for Americans to participate in the creation of these tools represents the crossing of a concerning new threshold. They view the moves as part of a problematic trend of Western technology firms redesigning their services to create China-friendly versions aligned with the country’s tighter social controls.
“For American companies, it really comes down to deciding whether or not you are willing to participate in this type of surveillance,” said Matt Erickson, executive director of the Digital Privacy Alliance. “If they do choose to take part, it makes these companies not unwitting but full-blown accomplices in the Chinese police state.”
Access to the world’s second-largest market is a powerful incentive, but for some companies, supporting Chinese censorship and social control efforts is not a matter of choice. As Chinese giants buy up American tech companies, from West Hollywood-based gay dating app Grindr to Motorola’s mobile phone business, regulators are raising questions about companies’ autonomy and ability to push back on requests that might violate their ethical principles.
They aren’t really American anymore.