Quick, what is Apple’s number one app? Hint: it’s not Twitter, Gmail, Instagram, or even Tinder. It’s actually a “study” app called 学习强国 or Learning Power that was released just weeks ago by China’s Communist Party. So far, the app has more than 17 million downloads from Huawei’s app store. Critics allege that the app’s apparent popularity has more to do with coerced downloads than user experience. The app serves as a tool for the party to spread propaganda about the party itself and also about its beloved chairman, Uncle Xi. Users can earn points by watching short clips, memorizing quick facts, and leaving positive comments regarding the Communist Party’s latest initiatives. Critics allege that the app is little more than a vehicle to spread the oppressive party’s narrative; others have called it an attempt at widespread mind control of China’s millions of millennials. Reviews in the Apple store have been disabled, but the early ones indicate that users were less than satisfied over the points, which are redeemable for future in-app purchases.
Learning Power might be China’s most popular app, but its most powerful is definitely 净网卫士, JingWang Weishi, which translates to “web cleansing.” Chinese authorities have physically forced the country’s Muslim minority to download and use the app, which records a phone’s identifying info, including its IMEI, model, sms number, and manufacturer. After downloading, analyzing, and storing all the phone’s personal data, the app then instructs users to delete ‘offensive’ photos and videos. Chinese authorities initially denied the very existence of the app, but subsequent security breaches have exposed the extent of the data harvesting. Security analysts have criticized the app’s lack of basic security features such as encryption as well as the state’s apparent disregard for user privacy. Rights activists allege that China’s minority Muslim population have been forced to essentially download an app which violates their basic rights and exposes their mobile devices to dangerous (and unnecessary) security risks.
Google and Apple have drawn widespread criticism this week for refusing to drop Saudi’s controversial Absher app. Among the 150+ services available on Absher, is the option to control women. Male ‘guardians’ use the app to monitor, track, and control the education, financial transactions, employment, and international travel of their female ‘wards.’ The app even sends convenient notifications whenever women try to exit the country via border checkpoints. Critics allege that the app perpetuates and facilitates the Kingdom’s oppressive, sectarian patriarchy. Just yesterday, three dozen countries—including all 28 members of the EU—rebuked the Kingdom over its detention and alleged sexual abuse of ten detained women’s rights activists. Some Saudi women have defended the app’s ability to make routine transactions easier. So far, Google and Apple maintain that the app doesn’t violate their terms and conditions, which apparently don’t include human rights.