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VICE News

Twitch has been banned in China and no one knows why

Apple did not respond to a question about why the app was removed from the App Store

by David Gilbert
Sep 21 2018, 3:30pm

Twitch, the Amazon-owned streaming service for gamers, has been banned in China with its official app removed from Apple’s local app store — and no one knows why.

Access to Twitch, which lets users watch and broadcast games, was shut off in China on Thursday, after days of users complaining about patchy connections to the service. While no official statement has been released by Beijing to explain why Twitch has been blocked, the company itself confirmed to VICE News on Friday that its service is no longer available in China.

China’s government operates a comprehensive online censorship system to stop citizens from accessing information that it deems unsavory, as well as silencing opposing voices.

As has become normal practice after the Chinese government decides to block an online service, Twitch’s official app has been pulled from Apple’s Chinese app store. Apple did not respond to a question about why the app was removed.

Twitch has become hugely popular in China in recent months among esports fans who wanted to watch their compatriots compete in the Asian Games in Jakarta. It was the first time the event featured competitive gaming, and fans were disappointed that Chinese state-run television did not cover the matches.

At the time it was pulled, the iOS app was the third-most-popular free app in the App Store.

Blocking Western internet services without warning is nothing new for Beijing, especially when those services are seen as getting popular. The fact Twitch’s servers are based outside of China would also be a cause of concern for the government, as it would not have nearly as much control over the content being shared on the service as it does with those services based inside China.

Apple recently was forced to partner with a government-linked third party to host all Chinese citizens’ iCloud data inside the country.

Authorities there are particularly wary of live streaming services where they cannot ensure a long list of censored topics may be openly discussed. Therefore as soon as Twitch was seen to be getting popular, blocking it became an inevitability.

Services like Facebook and Twitter have been permanently banned in China for many years, and Google made the decision to withdraw from China over a decade ago.

However, it now appears Google is ready to reenter the market and it has been secretly developing a censored version of its search service specifically for the Chinese market — a move that has led to significant backlash both inside and outside the company.

Cover: Chinese customers try out iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max smartphones at the Huaihai Road Flagship Apple Store in Shanghai, China, 21 September 2018. (Imaginechina via AP Images)