China’s VPN crackdown has been relentless in recent months and in a new twist VPN apps are now being removed from the Apple app store for Chinese users.
On Saturday some of the leading VPN providers including VyprVPN and ExpressVPN issued statements that they had received notice from Apple that their VPN app was being removed from the Chinese app store.
The email received by VyprVPN on Friday states that their VPN app is being removed because it “includes content that is illegal in China” and goes on to say that it is the publisher’s responsibility to ensure their app complies with local laws.
VPN providers and other commentators have been quick to criticise Apple who usually has a policy of su313131pporting freedom of speech and privacy for bowing to pressure from the Chinese government.
However, it is likely that Chinese authorities have forced Apple into a corner by requiring the removal with the fear the entire app store could be banned in China.
VPN apps allow users in China to bypass strict internet restrictions that block Chinese internet users from accessing sites that allow freedom of speech and discussion such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and chat apps such as Whatsapp and Line.
Chinese VPN crackdown
For many years VPN providers have played a cat and mouse game with Chinese regulators creating workarounds and introducing new servers to circumvent VPN blocks.
In recent months China has stepped up its efforts to ban VPN services. Just last month Chinese authorities forced local VPN provider GreenVPN to close their doors.
They also announced they would be banning all VPN services that did not comply with their strict regulations, which includes almost all foreign based VPN services.
Any location where VPN services are accessible is also being forced to close with reports that hotels that cater for mainly foreign visitors are removing VPN capabilities even for their international guests.
For Chinese users who do not already have a VPN app installed it appears the alternatives are becoming very thin on the ground.
VyprVPN issued a statement stating they will issue an appeal with Apple but this is likely to make little difference to the situation.
Apple users, unlike Android users, are unable to install apps directly without using the app store. Chinese users would be wise to make the switch to Android which would allow direct downloading of VPN apps without any involvement of the app store.
For now users are being advised to use manual set-up via the IKEv2 protocol that comes built into Apple devices. However, how long this feature will be left to be seen.
Now the Chinese authorities know they can strong-arm Apple into removing features of the service they dislike it won’t be long before they’re requesting the manual VPN set-up feature be removed or blocked from devices registered in China.