Apple users in China woke up Saturday to find they could no longer access unfiltered internet via their iPhones—the company had taken down several major virtual-private network apps from the country’s app store.
According to the New York Times, at least three companies, ExpressVPN, Star VPN, and VyprVPN, had their applications removed by Apple. ExpressVPN posted a letter from Apple on its blog stating that its app “includes content that is illegal in China.”
“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,” the company commented in its post.
Sunday Yokubaitis—president of Golden Frog, which oversees VyprVPN—told the Times that the company is disappointed in Apple’s decision to give into China’s pressure and remove VPN apps without citing Chinese laws.
“We view access to Internet in China as a human rights issue, and I would expect Apple to value human rights over profits,” Yokubaitis said.
The apps only appear to be removed from app stores connected to billing addresses in mainland China, Apple’s largest market outside of the United States. Because of Apple’s vulnerable relationship with the country, this move marks the first time China’s influence allowed it to push back against the company itself.
This isn’t the first time Apple has complied with the Company’s Great Firewall in order to keep a positive relationship with its second largest market. Last year, it removed news apps from the Times from the app store, per China’s request. It also announced its first-ever China data center last month, a move to comply with a new law requiring foreign companies to store data in the country.
According to the Times, the VPN-app crackdown likely signals stricter controls on VPNs to continue after this fall’s Chinese Communist Party congress.
Apple declined to comment about the app store removals.
H/T New York Times