In very unexpected turn in events, authorities in China appear to have made an ally on Saturday to reinforce their mission to abolish the use of VPN and encryption services that help internet users in the country to bypass the Great Firewall. This ally is considered to be one of the world’s most valuable and loved brands, Apple.
Apple spokesperson confirmed the news in a statement that the company will remove any apps that do not comply with China’s laws and regulations. This includes apps in Apple’s store in China as well as those located outside the country.
This response has come after the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology made an announcement this year 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,” Apple added. “These apps remain available in all other markets where they do business.”
Over the past few months, China has shut down several providers that were based in the country, most notably Green VPN (you can read more about it here). However, this is the first time Apple has agreed to cooperate with the Chinese government to axe privacy rights.
America’s most famous whistleblower, Edward Snowden, expressed his disdain and shock at Apple’s actions against privacy rights in a tweet, saying “Apple has done much good for privacy and security in recent years, but actively assisting censorship crosses the red line of human rights.”
The company has already started sending notices to VPN service providers listed on its App Store, such as ExpressVPN, which posted the letter it received from Apple on its official blog as you can see in the image below.
ExpressVPN went on further to call Apple’s actions “surprising and unfortunate” in an official statement:
“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,” the company said in the blog post. “ExpressVPN strongly condemns these measures, which threaten free speech and civil liberties.”
ExpressVPN is not the only victim that fell during Apple’s crackdown on encryption services, but VyprVPN has also been axed from the App Store in China. Sunday Yokubaitis, president of Golden Frog spoke out regarding this shocking situation in an official statement:
“We gladly filed an amicus brief in support of Apple in their backdoor encryption battle with the F.B.I.,” he said, “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 added, “We view access to internet in China as a human rights issue, and I would expect Apple to value human rights over profits.”
Apple’s compliance to China’s censorship orders is a clear sign that authorities in China are gaining control over the internet at a very alarming rate and in great influence. The only reason that could make sense why Apple has decided to comply is probably because China is considered to be Apple’s largest market outside the US, which makes the company more vulnerable to revenue loss in case they lose their presence in the Chinese market.