The Great Firewall, as its known, is implemented by the Chinese government to crackdown on user access by its citizens. Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, have been a means to bypass that restriction for years.
Now it seems that Apple has decided to remove that accessibility option for Chinese citizens. According to several different developers who previously had their own VPN apps available in the Chinese App Store, their apps have been removed. As TechCrunch reports, it was first noted by ExpressVPN, which is a provider based outside of China. The developer confirmed that “all major VPN” apps have been removed from the Chinese App Store at this point.
According to a response from Apple directly, the reason ExpressVPN’s app was removed was because it “includes content that is illegal in China.”
ExpressVPN is still technically available in other countries all over the world — just not in China. Another VPN provider, Star VPN, has since tweeted out that its own option has also been removed from the Chinese App Store.
On its blog, ExpressVPN outlined its response to Apple’s move, saying that it “condemns these measures.”
“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. ExpressVPN strongly condemns these measures, which threaten free speech and civil liberties.”
The developers did say that the ExpressVPN app is still available on Mac, and it’s also available on other platforms like Windows, Android, and others.
Apple isn’t a stranger to removing apps or changing things in general to navigate in China, in light of the government’s restrictions. In January of this year, Apple removed the New York Times app from the iOS App Store, due to “local regulations.” It is not a secret that Apple sees China as its next big step in business, as it’s a huge focus for the company, and these moves are seen as direct responses to that.
For Chinese citizens that use iOS, who also require a VPN to access the open internet, this is a huge step backwards. The Chinese government in January of this year effectively illegalized virtual private networks, making them require government approval before they can be launched. While Apple sees working with the government as a requirement to make any headway there, this is a huge step in the wrong direction for an open, free internet in China, and deals a blow to avoiding censorship.