Ap­ple re­moves apps from China store that help users evade cen­sor­ship

Miami Herald - - FRONT PAGE -

HONG KONG — China ap­pears to have re­ceived help over the week­end from an un­likely source in its fight against tools that help users evade its Great Fire­wall of in­ter­net cen­sor­ship: Ap­ple.

Soft­ware made by for­eign com­pa­nies to help users skirt the coun­try’s sys­tem of in­ter­net fil­ters has van­ished from Ap­ple’s app store on the main­land.

One com­pany, Ex­pressVPN, posted a let­ter it had re­ceived from Ap­ple say­ing that its app had been taken down “be­cause it in­cludes con­tent that is il­le­gal in China.”

A search Sat­ur­day showed that a num­ber of the most pop­u­lar for­eign vir­tual-pri­vate net­works, also known as VPNs, which give users ac­cess to the un­fil­tered in­ter­net in China, were no longer ac­ces­si­ble on the com­pany’s app store there.

Sun­day Yokubaitis, pres­i­dent of Golden Frog, a com­pany that makes pri­vacy and se­cu­rity soft­ware in­clud­ing VyprVPN, said its soft­ware, too, had been taken down from the app store. “We gladly filed an am­i­cus brief in sup­port of Ap­ple in their back­door en­cryp­tion bat­tle with the FBI,” 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.”

In a state­ment, Ap­ple noted that the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment an­nounced this year that all de­vel­op­ers of­fer­ing VPNs needed to ob­tain a gov­ern­ment li­cense. “We have been re­quired to re­move some VPN apps in China that do not meet the new reg­u­la­tions,” the com­pany said. “Th­ese apps re­main avail­able in all other mar­kets where they do busi­ness.”

The re­movals sig­nal a new push by China to con­trol the in­ter­net. In the past, the Great Fire­wall has used tech­nol­ogy to dis­rupt VPNs, and Bei­jing has shut down Chi­nese VPNs and even aimed a huge cy­ber­at­tack at a well­known for­eign site host­ing code that cir­cum­vented the fil­ters.

But they also mark the first time China has suc­cess­fully used its in­flu­ence with a ma­jor for­eign tech plat­form, like Ap­ple, to push back against the soft­ware mak­ers.

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