Apple claims blocking 674 VPNs in China helps it promote freedom of speech, then blocks Skype too

Apple in finding its decision to comply with the Chinese Government’s VPN ban is turning into a PR disaster. But far from backing off, they have doubled down and, after revealing they had blocked more than 674 VPN apps in China, remarkably claimed that removing access to the crucial online freedom tools helps them to promote freedom of speech in one of the world’s most oppressive authoritarian regimes.

Apple under pressure over compliance with Chinese Communists

Regular readers will recall that Apple was subjected to a huge amount of criticism earlier this year when it was revealed that they had removed more than 60 VPN apps from their Chinese app store. Amongst those to demand the reasoning behind Apple’s decision were David Kaye, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Opinion and Expression, and senior US Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

Apple has now replied publicly to the US Senator’s letter and list of questions. And in their reply, which came from Apple’s Vice President for Public Policy, Cynthia Hogan, made some remarkable assertions.

“We believe that our presence in China helps promote greater openness and facilitates the free flow of ideas and information,” she said, seemingly overlooking the fact that they had now blocked what is by far the most effective tool at facilitating this.

Hogan went on to say “Our products and services offer our customers opportunities to communicate in many forms, including through personal communications services, podcasts, photos, and millions of apps.” However, she then went on to confirm that Apple had blocked an astonishing 674 VPN apps in China this year alone.

She confirmed that the Chinese regime had made specific demands to Apple over the removal of the apps and claimed that the VPNs were in breach of Chinese law, including Article 27 of the country’s new Cybersecurity Law and Regulation on Business Behaviour in the Cloud Services Market.

Astonishing attempt to justify the unjustifiable

However, when asked to detail how Apple had responded to this demand and what sort of fight it had put up, the only response offered was “Apple has made its views on VPN apps clear to the Chinese government.”

In response to their letter, Senator Leahy made it clear he was far from convinced by their arguments noting that such countries have a “moral obligation to promote free expression and other basic human rights in countries [like China] that routinely deny these rights.”

He is of course right and it seems remarkable that in removing access to what is by far the most effective tool to promote freedom of expression in China, Apple is claiming to be acting in the interest of that very right.

There should be no doubt that in facilitating the Chinese Communist Party’s block on VPNs, Apple is helping them to suppress the rights of more than a billion Chinese people and helping to facilitate the world’s most oppressive online censorship and surveillance regimes.

For this, they should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves and you would hope would not make the same mistake again. But that is exactly what they have done with Skype.

Now Apple blocks access to Skype in China

It was reported earlier this week that the Skype app has recently been removed from the Apple app store in China, and other app stores in the country Once again, the Chinese Communist Party has issued a demand for its removal on the grounds that it is in breach of the country’s laws. And once again Apple has complied.

“We have been notified by the Ministry of Public Security that a number of voice over internet protocol apps do not comply with local law,” Apple confirmed in a statement which mirrored their one on VPN apps earlier in the year. “Therefore these apps have been removed from the app store in China.”

Microsoft, which owns Skype, has confirmed that the app was not currently available in China stating that it had been “temporarily removed” and saying they were “working to reinstate the app as soon as possible.”

Based on previous experiences, Skype users in China won’t be holding their breath for the service to resume. China’s crackdown on online freedoms is continuing even after the Communist Party’s People’s Congress meeting ended last month.

And thanks to the helpfulness of companies like Apple, it is now easier than ever for China to obstruct its people’s right to freedom of express and freedom of speech online.

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