Apple removes several VPNs apps from App Store in China

Posted August 01, 2017

Creators of VPN apps like ExpressVPN have been notified that their apps have been removed from China's App Store. Three VPN providers confirmed removal, and Apple provided a statement that said that regulations put in place in January were the cause.

People have been using VPN apps in China to get around government censorship in the country.

Apple however has also stated the apps would continue to function normally in those countries and regions where local laws do not prohibit the use of VPNs.

"Our preliminary research indicates that all major VPN apps for iOS have been removed", ExpressVPN, a provider based in the British Virgin Islands, said in a blog post Saturday.

China's VPN crackdown has been relentless in recent months and in a new twist VPN apps are now being removed from the Apple app store for Chinese users.

With the help of VPNs, Chinese Internet users bypass the country's famous "Great Firewall" that heavily restricts their access to foreign sites. Analysts say the government has been more aggressive in pressuring companies to make concessions following the passage of a new cybersecurity law, which went into effect June 1, and ahead of a sensitive Communist Party conclave set for late autumn.

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Apple's largest market outside of the U.S.is China, and it appears that the company is willing to compromise with Beijing in order to protect its business interests.

Many are concerned by what it being perceived as Apple's aid to China's strict censorship efforts. Chinese authorities now block access from multiple sites including Facebook, Twitter and more. As Ben Thompson of Stratechery noted earlier this year in his newsletter, "The fundamental issue is this: unlike the rest of the world, in China the most important layer of the smartphone stack is not the phone's operating system". Apple could be concerned that it might receive the same fate if it gains the ire of China's government.

After censors succeeded in blocking Tor, VPNs became the tool of choice for "scaling the wall", in Chinese online parlance, and are used as much by government institutions, state-owned companies, and educational establishments as by the general public. Apple said in the statement.

But Yokubaitis also laid bare Apple's core problem: It still needs to worry about profits. The country has already restricted several China based providers and is now eying the overseas services to further tighten control over the information super highway.

"Apple is strongly committed to invest and grow in China, and we are thrilled that Isabel will be bringing her experience and leadership to our China team", said Apple CEO Tim Cook announcing the change.