Apple, Inc. has confirmed that it is removing some applications providing virtual personal networks, or VPNs, from its China App Store, to comply with new Chinese regulations — a move critics say is capitulating to internet censorship.
Apple confirmed the move in an email to National Public Radio on Saturday, after several VPN providers announced that their apps had been removed from the China App Store.
Software made outside China can sometimes be used to get around China’s domestic internet firewalls that block content that the government finds objectionable. Critics call China’s “great firewall” one of the world’s most advanced censorship systems.
VPN apps pulled
“Earlier this year,” Apple said, “China’s MIIT [Ministry of Industry and Information Technology] 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.”
App maker Express VPN said in a blog post that its app was removed from the China Apple Store, and it noted that “preliminary research indicates that all major VPN apps for iOS [Apple operating systems] have been removed.”
The statement continued, “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.”
Another company, Star VPN, also announced it had been contacted by Apple with the same notice.
Golden Frog, a company that makes security software, told the New York Times that its app also had been taken down from the China App Store.
“We gladly filed an amicus brief in support of Apple and their backdoor encryption battle with the FBI, 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,” said Sunday Yokubaitis, president of the company.
The Times reports that this is the first time China has successfully used its influence with a major foreign technology platform such as Apple, to flex its muscle with software makers.
China is Apple’s largest market outside the United States.