One of the most influential brands in the world, Apple wields an immense amount of influence in the lives of everyday Americans. With one of the iconic company’s signature products, the iPhone, reaching its largest market share to date last summer, the Apple App Store is also a most powerful de facto gatekeeper of information.
App developers rely on the App Store to reach end-point users, and advertisers rely on the continuity of this process to ensure that they too are effectively spending their marketing budgets. Add to that the day-to-day livelihood of Apple’s 160,00-plus employees and the financial and fiduciary interests of its millions of shareholders, and it’s clear to see that the tech giant has a major role to play in fostering a marketplace that protects the freedom of a wide diversity of political and religious viewpoints.
Unfortunately, a thorough review of Apple’s policies and public disclosures demonstrates that it’s failing to deliver in this key area. Of the 50 companies profiled in the inaugural Viewpoint Diversity Score Business Index, Apple scored near the bottom, at just 8 percent overall.
Apple scored 8 percent in the Market section, which gauges whether a company respects diversity of belief and expression in external stakeholders such as users, creators, customers and sellers. The tally is owing in large part to Apple’s problematic terms of service, together with its lack of transparency—shown by its failure to answer shareholder questions posed to the company in the survey portion of the Index.
As we have detailed elsewhere, Apple’s imprecise and unclear terms of service are a standing threat to freedom of speech. Apple is far from the only company that undermines basic freedoms in this way, but it can correct course by adopting the guidance set forward in our resource, “The Risk of Unclear or Imprecise Terms in Product or Service Policies.”
In a document titled, Our Commitment to Human Rights, Apple claims to “believe in the critical importance of an open society in which information flows freely.” Unfortunately, that positive sentiment is severely undermined by the corporation’s App Store policies. In its terms of service, for instance, the tech giant promises users that it “will reject apps for any content or behavior that we believe is over the line. What line, you ask? Well, as a Supreme Court Justice once said, ‘I’ll know it when it see it’. And we think that you will also know it when you cross it.”
Tongue-and-cheek though it is, a statement promising some form of content censorship while steadfastly declining to specify a standard of acceptability means developers seeking to reach users via the App Store can be censored at any time and—as a separate concern—without notice. As reported by the Huffington Post, Apple’s policy has been used to censor a wide range of content, including those promoting Judeo-Christian views on marriage and sexuality. That trend also holds outside the U.S., where Apple’s censorship often caters to the whims of oppressive regimes.
That’s also what happened to Parler in early 2021, when the conservative alternative to Twitter was suddenly banned from the App Store, along with major competitors like Google Play and Amazon.
Without clear, precise definitions of what is and isn’t allowed on the platform, developers are forced to play a guessing game that—especially as seen in Parler’s case—necessarily involves proactively appeasing the changing desires of Apple censors.
Apple has another concerning policy, this time regarding Apple Pay. It states, “You may not incorporate Apple Pay into a website that...Promotes hate, violence, or intolerance based on race, age, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.” The policy does not go into detail regarding what it might consider such “hate” or “intolerance” to look like. Wording like this could be used to arbitrarily disqualify users from their payment service.
Further, Apple does not allow for suppliers to have freedom regarding their own DE&I policies. Instead, suppliers are required to have a policy which clearly affirms that the, “Supplier shall not Discriminate against any Worker based on race, color, age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability, religion, political affiliation, union membership, national origin, marital status, or gender identity in hiring.” While there is wording in this statement that protects workers from discrimination based on religion and political affiliation, the statement also excludes the participation of suppliers who may have hiring policies that align with their own religious or political viewpoints.
The workplace section in the Index indicates a company’s respect regarding religious and ideological diversity for workers. Apple’s score in this section came in at 10 percent. The low score is mainly attributable to Apple’s lack of transparency via its failure to answer shareholder questions in the survey portion of the Index. It is also because of policies that threaten the freedom of Apple employees to live and work according to their deeply held views.
Credit where it is due, Apple’s publicly accessible workplace non-discrimination policy includes religion as a protected category. The company is also known to officially recognize one or more employee resource groups (“ERGs”) that represent specific faith traditions. This includes the Agnostic Community at Apple, Apple Christian Fellowship, Apple Jewish Association, Apple Muslim Association, and Apply Sikhi Association.
Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends when it comes to Apple’s respect for its religiously and politically diverse employees.
Apple does not maintain policies promoting respect for diverse beliefs at work, nor do any career related webpages indicate the affirmation of viewpoint diversity. The company’s DE&I reporting likewise is void of wording inclusive of viewpoint diversity. Employees should feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work, without the fear of viewpoint discrimination. Diversity of thought is an essential component of the innovation that is especially important at tech companies like Apple.
Apple also compromises employees’ freedom by embracing divisive concepts within its training materials. In one training guide, for example, Apple employees are instructed that “Racism is the marginalization or oppression of people of color based on a socially constructed racial hierarchy that privileges white people.”
Unsurprisingly, a plurality (40 percent) of 3,000 employees surveyed by Ipsos as part of our recently released “Freedom at Work” poll say this approach divides, rather than unites, colleagues, while the same number say they are less likely to trust others or feel included at work if they were told in a company-sponsored training that they were complicit in racism or oppression based on their skin color, religion, or sex.
When it comes to their employee matching donation programs, Apple excludes religious organizations from eligibility. In the Apple Matching Gifts Program, the company states that qualified organizations may not be, “political, religious, or fraternal in nature.” Companies should honor every employee’s desire to make a positive difference in the world through charitable giving, including religious employees. Barring gifts to religious charities sends a message of exclusion; it tells religious employees that they should leave their faith—a defining aspect of their life—at home.
Apple should take action to correct this major areas of concern, and it can find tangible ways to do so at our resources page, which features model policies and toolkits to champion viewpoint diversity within any company.
A charter member of the Human Rights Campaign’s “Business Coalition for the Equality Act,” Apple has long supported legislation, litigation efforts, and even non-profits that target for destruction the constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and religion.
It’s no surprise, then, to see the company fail to score even a single point on this section of the Business Index.
Apple’s support for the so-called “Equality Act” is representative of the issue. The Act is federal legislation that seeks to elevate sexual orientation and gender identity to the same level of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin in federal law. This proposal poses a deliberate and unprecedented threat to free speech, religious freedom, and the progress that women have made toward true equal treatment under the law.
In practice, the Equality Act would coerce people who willingly serve everyone to promote messages and celebrate events that conflict with their beliefs. It would harm equal treatment of women by forcing them to compete against men in their own athletic events and share private spaces with men. It would harm religious freedom by coercing uniformity of thought and speech relating to beliefs about marriage, sex, and what it means to be male and female.
Along with supporting the Equality Act, Apple has also involved itself in high-profile cases at the U.S. Supreme Court where fundamental First Amendment freedoms hung in the balance. In Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Elenis, Apple joined an amicus brief backing the state of Colorado’s losing effort to punish Christian cake artist Jack Phillips for declining to create art violating his conscience. Apple again signed onto a brief opposing the freedom of faith-based foster care providers to operate according to their religious beliefs. The Court unanimously sided with the providers in its 2021 decision—affirming the free exercise of religion for all Americans.
Along with its ties to the Human Rights Campaign—which includes a “Platinum Partner” status for its financial support—Apple also has a recent track record of support for the far-left Center for American Progress, which ran the now-defunct “Think Progress” outlet.
Apple also opposed a recent shareholder proposal to disclose the ideological perspectives of Board nominees. The rejected “True Diversity Board Policy” proposed the following language in 2019:
“We believe that boards that incorporate diverse perspectives can think more critically and oversee corporate managers more effectively. By providing a meaningful disclosure about potential Board members, shareholders will be better able to judge how well-suited individual board nominees are for the Company.” In response, Apple’s voted against the proposal saying, “the skills, qualities, attributes, and experience that the Board evaluates when considering a potential nominee do not include 'ideological perspectives.'”
Finally, in matters of charitable giving, Apple excludes or threatens to exclude faith-based non-profits from charitable contributions or non-profit pricing because of their advocacy for religious-based perspectives on matters of public concern.
As with the threats to fundamental freedoms posed by Apple’s vague terms of service on its App Store, the company’s reticence to clarify guidelines on its payment processing service puts customers and non-profits at risk of being denied based on ideological grounds.
In a day and age with much tension in the political arena, a large well-known company like Apple could leverage its position to stand up for fundamental rights. Instead, many of its actions suggest that the company is standing to oppose ideological and religious freedom while waving the banner of apparent diversity and equality.