Apple faces embarrassment over freedom of expression vote

Proposal critical of Apple's relationship with the Chinese government likely to be voted down

Apple faces a divisive annual shareholder meeting in Cupertino, California as shareholders vote on the company’s commitment to freedom of expression.

A proposal critical of the company’s decision to remove virtual private network (VPN) apps from its Chinese app store in 2017, at the behest of the Beijing government, will go to a vote on Wednesday.

The proposal also calls on Apple to report whether it has “publicly committed to respect freedom of expression as a human right.”

VPN apps allow Chinese iPhone users to bypass the country’s ban on many overseas websites.

Apple will oppose the proposal, saying it has to follow laws in countries where it operates. “We may disagree with certain decisions at times (but) we do not believe it would be in the best interests of our users to simply abandon markets, which would leave consumers with fewer choices and fewer privacy protections,” the company said.

Apple was criticised by human rights groups last year for acquiescing with Chinese government requests to remove a mapping app during pro-democracy protests in Hong Hong.

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The app was used by protesters to track police movements, and was removed days after criticism from Chinese state media.

Shareholders are likely to vote down the proposal. In 2018 a proposal urging Apple to create a human rights panel was defeated with 94.4 per cent of shareholders voting against.

The institutional investors that dominate Apple’s shareholding are highly unlikely to support the call for a public declaration that might damage the company’s reputation and undermine its share price.

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