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Apple has just become instrumental to China’s “Great Firewall” by obliterating around 60 virtual private networks (VPNs) from its Chinese App Store over the weekend.
Providers of the affected VPNs expressed their disappointment at the tech giant’s move, which easily prompted discussions about its alleged choice to put business before customer interests, and consequently, human rights.
ExpressVPN, a major service provider, said that it received a notification from Apple on Saturday saying that its software will be removed because “it includes content that is illegal in China.”
“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,” the company said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Golden Frog, which oversees VyprVPN, plans to send an appeal to Apple. Company president Sunday Yokubaitis said that they are “extremely disappointed” that Apple “bowed to pressure.”
Yokubaitis wrote in a blog post (via BBC):
“If Apple views accessibility as a human right, we would hope Apple will likewise recognize internet access as a human right (the UN has even ruled it as such) and would choose human rights over profits.”
With its latest move, Apple clearly exercised compliance with Chinese legislation cemented in January. According to Reuters, Beijing passed laws that ban VPNs not approved by state regulators, while requiring approved services to use the country’s network infrastructure.
If anything, Apple appears to be handling pressure from two sides — the company wants to be law-abiding while keeping its customers happy. The problem comes as its Chinese market share and shipment volume fell for the first time last year, and currently, it is at risk of falling out of the top five smartphone sellers in the country, which happens to be its second-largest market after the U.S., TechCrunch noted.
For now, Chinese netizens relying on the purged VPNs could be looking for other ways to bypass the country’s draconian censorship system, which recently banned paparazzi, Winnie the Pooh and gay videos because they’re “abnormal.”