Kowtow Alert: TuneIn Censors Its Own Radio App in China


Click to enlarge the TuneIn app screenshot.

China’s web isolationism has taken a bizarre new turn with the American radio streaming app TuneIn admitting that it is censoring its own app at the behest of Chinese authorities. It means that users of the TuneIn mobile app can no longer access most foreign radio stations from within the app – despite many of them (such as NPR from the US, or the BBC from the UK) not being blocked by the Great Firewall.

Talking to Tech In Asia, a TuneIn representative said:

We are complying with Chinese government regulations to remove aspects of our service in China.

Further attempts to clarify how this all came about were met with silence over the weekend. We’ll update if we hear more from TuneIn.

The self-restriction means that, for example, any attempt to listen to BBC Radio 4 when located in China causes the app to redirect you (pictured above) to “a similar station” after saying that the station you wanted “is not available.” And so BBC Radio 4 now redirects to the state-approved Voice of the Straits (VOS) radio channel which runs state-sanctioned news relating to relations between mainland China and Taiwan. A victory for Net Nanny.

A great many other English-language stations are now also self-censored by TuneIn, including American public radio. These tend not to redirect as part of the new TuneIn restrictions, and instead fail to stream with a “station not available” notice.

One of the few things to now work in the app is state-run China Radio International (CRI) and random assortments of Chinese-language local radio. Bizarrely, many other local stations no longer work in the app – such as the English-language station Shanghai Love Radio, or the Chinese-language Shanghai FM 101.7. It’s all pretty screwed, with no apparent logic to it. All local radio already complies with strict media regulations, and so is inherently uncontroversial.

TuneIn’s tagline “Listen to the world” now rings pretty hollow after its kowtowing to an apparent call to geo-restrict its own app. Other radio and podcast streaming apps still work from China, as do the individual websites and web streams for most US and European radio stations. For now, at least.

(And yes, we're serious about ethics and transparency. More information here.)

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