Apple pulls VPNs from Chinese App Store
The internet has been censored and filtered in China since at least 1997, but the past decade has seen Party control of the internet accelerate since the Beijing olympics, when they were temporarily relaxed to give foreign press a better impression of the country. In stark contrast to the western concept of the internet being a conduit for expression, open sharing of ideas, and access to information, the Communist Party of China sees a censored internet as a crucial tool to form public opinion. The tight grip held on the internet by the Chinese government has just tightened even more it seems, as Fortune reports that VPNs and other anti-censorship apps have been pulled "en masse" from the App Store in China.
The affected apps included Star VPN, ExpressVPN, and other tools for protecting user privacy and encrypting traffic. Using a VPN would allow someone to keep their traffic hidden from authorities and as a result, enable access to censored subjects such as the 1989 Tiananmen square massacre or reports about civil unrest and human rights. More commonly, they are used by expats who simply need to access the numerous websites blocked from inside the country, such as Google Docs or YouTube.
Affected companies received noticed Saturday morning that their apps had been removed from the store for violating Chinese law, which might be related to legislation put in motion at the start of the year which sought to make VPNs operating in China require Chinese government approval. This is certainly not the first concession Apple has made to retain access to the Asian country's population of nearly 1.4 billion people; Apple is building a local data center in China to accommodate new cybersecurity rules. The company claims that the Chinese government has no access to user data.
ExpressVPN publicly reminded users that it is possible for people inside China to access the apps as long as they have a billing address in a country where the App Store has not yet been censored.