U.S. companies aid and abet Chinese censorship - Activate World

U.S. companies aid and abet Chinese censorship

Shutterstock, the online purveyor of stock images and photographs, now maintains a search blacklist of keywords forbidden by China’s authoritarian rules. Other U.S. companies also support China’s censorship by complying with the government’s censorship requirements

Lunchtime conversations:

  • Should American companies always honor the American values that underly their business? Although some compromise is necessary, when does it begin to destroy the values of an organization? 
  • Shutterstock markets itself as an enabler of creative expression. How does this positioning align with censorship and suppression of Chinese political dissent? 
  • Shutterstock’s CEO Jon Oringer asked: “Do we make the majority of our content available to China’s 1.3 billion citizens or do we take away their ability to access it entirely?” How would you answer, and what is your rationale? 


  • China’s “Great Firewall” blocks internet content that the government deems sensitive, including reports of political unrest and references to Taiwan as an independent country.
  • U.S. tech companies, including Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, and others, are banned from China.
  • TikTok, a Chinese company with a global buzz, has a history of censoring political content in line with the Chinese government, according to internal documents viewed by The Guardian.


Google had plans for a censored search engine in China, but the backlash from employees and the public led it to cancel the project.

Other companies have controversially decided to make concessions to China to operate in the country, including Microsoft and Apple.

Apple removed apps for virtual private networks, The New York Times, the news app Quartz and gambling. The company also removed HKmap.live, which enabled protesters to track Hong Kong Police, from the App Store a few days after initially approving it. An Apple spokesperson told Business Insider that the app was being used in ways that put Hong Kong residents and law enforcement in danger.

Microsoft censors political content that could anger the Chinese government from Bing search results and LinkedIn posts. Searches for the Dalai Lama and Tiananmen Square, among other topics, returned different results in Chinese and English, suggesting that Microsoft was applying Chinese censorship rules. 

Airbnb canceled reservations in 2012 and removed listings in Beijing during China’s National People’s Congress, an annual two-week meeting of parliament. The company said it was due to “external factors” to be good neighbors. The company also removed listings and canceled booking in advance of the Communist Party’s five-yearly congress. 

Blizzard, the company known for “World of Warcraft” and “Overwatch,” punished a competitor who publicly supported Hong Kong protesters. The company was criticized for banning competitor Blitzchung from competitions for a year and rescinding his prize money.

Western workers are upset that they are working to enforce the anti-freedom policies of China. More than 180 Shutterstock employees signed a petition against the search blacklist and accused the company of trading its values for access to the lucrative Chinese market.

Shutterstock employees should be commended for standing up for freedom and democracy.  If the company continues to ignore the erosion in the values at the heart of it’s business, employees can find employment in other firms that value freedom globally. 

Sources: Business InsiderTechcrunchThe InterceptThe Verge

Photo by Li Yang on Unsplash