BEIJING: Apple has removed software allowing internet users to skirt China’s “Great Firewall” from its app store in the country, the company confirmed on Sunday, sparking criticism that it was bowing to Beijing’s tightening web censorship.
Chinese internet users have for years sought to get around heavy internet restrictions, including blocks on Facebook and Twitter, by using foreign virtual private network (VPN) services. Beijing mandated in January that all developers must obtain government licences to offer VPNs, leading to the Apple decision.
“We have been required to remove some VPN apps in China that do not meet the new regulations,” Apple told AFP in a statement on Sunday. “These apps remain available in all other markets where they do business.”
Two major providers, ExpressVPN and Star VPN, said on Saturday that Apple had notified them that their products were no longer being offered in China. Both firms decried the move.
China has hundreds of millions of smartphone users and is a vital market for Apple, whose iPhones are wildly popular in the country. The company unveiled plans earlier this month to build a data centre in China to store its local iCloud customers’ personal details.
While China is home to the world’s largest number of internet users, a 2015 report by US think tank Freedom House found that the country had the most restrictive online use policies of 65 nations it studied, ranking below Iran and Syria.