Apple pulls VPNs from the App Store as Russia bans them completely

Apple removes VPNs from the Chinese store, while Russia makes them illegal

t's not a good day for internet freedom. Just over a year ago, the UN ruled that "the same rights people have offline must also be protected online," although the non-binding resolution has some notable dissenters including Russia and China. So it should come as little surprise that a year on, both nations aren't taking the resolution terribly seriously.

Blocked in Beijing

Let's start with China. Back in January, the country's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced that developers creating Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) must obtain a license from the government. VPNs give citizens a work around the so-called "great firewall of China" which not only censors politically sensitive websites, but also prevents access to other websites blocked in the country for fairly predictable reasons: Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube amongst others.

This weekend, Apple has complied with the tough regulations, banning at least three VPN apps from the Chinese App Store: ExpressVPN, VyprVPN and StarVPN.

In a statement to TechCrunch, Apple justified the move is a fairly prosaic way, treating the ban as just a case of following local laws as they would with any other country. "Earlier this year China's MIIT announced that all developers offering VPNs must obtain a license from the government. We have been required to remove some VPN apps in China that do not meet the new regulations. These apps remain available in all other markets where they do business."

That's fine, except China isn't just any other country, and many are appalled that a company of Apple's declared values would abet political censorship. Golden Frog, VyprVPN's distributor, said it would be appealing to Apple, arguing that it hoped the company "would choose human rights over profits."

It may not be that simple. Apple makes much of its hardware in China, and it's becoming a big sales market too. China doesn't tend to mess around when Western companies put their foot down on censorship issues, as Google did back in 2010 the search engine has been banned in the country since 2012.

Russia following suit?

Meanwhile, 3,598 miles away from Beijing in Moscow, similar ominous mood music is playing. President Vladimir Putin has just signed a law banning VPNs and proxies in Russia from 1 November. This, along with another law that requires chat apps to attach phone numbers from 2018, is ostensibly justified as a means to block access to extremist content, but critics view the crackdown as yet more political censorship. Especially given we're just seven months away from the next Russian presidential election.

The move will mean Russia joins the likes of Syria and Iran in blocking the use of VPNs. All in all, it's not a good time for the freedom of the internet no matter what non-binding UN resolutions may tell you.

Featured Resources

The complete guide to changing your phone system provider

Optimise your phone system for better business results

Download now

Simplify cluster security at scale

Centralised secrets management across hybrid, multi-cloud environments

Download now

The endpoint as a key element of your security infrastructure

Threats to endpoints in a world of remote working

Download now

2021 state of IT asset management report

The role of IT asset management for maximising technology investments

Download now

Recommended

Ryuk behind a third of all ransomware attacks in 2020
Security

Ryuk behind a third of all ransomware attacks in 2020

29 Oct 2020
REvil hacking group says it has made more than $100m in a year
Security

REvil hacking group says it has made more than $100m in a year

29 Oct 2020
36 billion personal records exposed by hacks in 2020 so far
Security

36 billion personal records exposed by hacks in 2020 so far

29 Oct 2020
Trump website defaced in second successive cyber breach
Security

Trump website defaced in second successive cyber breach

28 Oct 2020

Most Popular

Do smart devices make us less intelligent?
artificial intelligence (AI)

Do smart devices make us less intelligent?

19 Oct 2020
Politicians need to stop talking about technology
Policy & legislation

Politicians need to stop talking about technology

21 Oct 2020
Best MDM solutions 2020
mobile device management (MDM)

Best MDM solutions 2020

21 Oct 2020