All the major VPN apps were removed by Apple from the App Store in China for which Apple has stated that it is acting in accordance with the regulations of Ministry of Industry and Information Technology which were introduced earlier this year. According to the regulations, all VPN apps need to be licensed by the government.
Apple’s statement that:
“Earlier this year China’s MIIT announced that all developers offering VPNs must obtain a license from the government. We have been required to remove some VPN apps in China that do not meet the new regulations. These apps remain available in all other markets where they do business.”
The only source to bypass state censorship is VPN apps and services which allow the access of people living in China to interact with the content that is prohibited in the country. The government of China controls and prevents the access of the people too numerous websites and content which is bypassed by the VPN apps. The MIIT issued new regulations introduced in January that asked the VPN apps to get licensed by the government of China.
A letter was posted by a VPN company named ExpressVPN which was sent to them by Apple stating that its app has been removed as it includes such content which is illegal to view in China. Another company also reported the same thing about the removal of the app. Later on Saturday, a search showed that there are several famous foreign VPN services which allowed the users to get access to restricted content in China, were now removed from the Apple app store.
Express VPN showed disappointment over the sudden removal saying that it was surprising and unfortunate. It said that “We’re disappointed in this development, as it represents the most drastic measure the Chinese government has taken to block the use of VPNs to date, and we are troubled to see Apple aiding China’s censorship efforts.”
Not just this, the company Golden Frog that creates privacy and security software including VPN stated that its software also got removed from the app store.
The president of Golden Frog, Sunday Yokubaitis said, “We gladly filed an amicus brief in support of Apple in their backdoor encryption battle with the F.B.I.,”
He added, “so we are extremely disappointed that Apple has bowed to pressure from China to remove VPN apps without citing any Chinese law or regulation that makes VPN illegal.”
He also said, “We view access to the internet in China as a human rights issue, and I would expect Apple to value human rights over profits.”
The US whistle blower Edward Snowden also criticized the move from Apple:
Apple has done much good for privacy and security in recent years, but actively assisting censorship crosses the red line of human rights. https://t.co/gzhRPqs5g9
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) July 29, 2017
The removal of the VPN apps is not the first time; Apple has done this before as well at the request of the Chinese government. This sudden elimination of the VPN apps is a reminder that how obliged the massive technology company has become to Beijing currently when the government has been urging to make the control over the internet more rigid.
This act of removing the VPN apps is an indication of government’s control over the internet. The Great Firewall has been used to disrupt the VPN services in past and Beijing has also taken down the Chinese VPNs, moreover, it also had aimed a massive cyber attack at a famous foreign site hosting code that bypassed the filters. But this is for the first time that China got the assistance of the tech giant like Apple to stronger their censorship against the software makers.
Such internet crackdowns occur every five years; it seems that this year the Chinese Communist Party will likely make stricter controls over the VPNs. Earlier this month, the Facebook owned messaging app WhatsApp also began a partial block in China.
Outside the United States, the biggest market for Apple is China. Apple has become a more vulnerable company as compared to any other American technology company to a Chinese campaign to wean itself off foreign technology and build a stronger control over the operation of foreign tech companies there.
Earlier this month, Apple also said that it is willing to establish its first data center in China in order to oblige to the new law which urges foreign firms to keep more of their data in China.
For many years the Apple app store has been operating in China. The Beijing’s move in December to target news sites and the VPN crackdown shows that the regulators of the internet in China are digging deep to control what is present on the Apple’s China App Store.