China famously censors the internet within the country, preventing its citizens from accessing websites such as Facebook or Google, and has pushed companies to register their App stores with government regulators or remove content that it deems illegal. Now, it appears that Apple has purged its Chinese App store of major VPN apps, according to The New York Times.
As a result of the country’s online censorship, many citizens and visitors have turned to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) as a means to access the sites and content that have been banned by the government. Today, several companies have reported receiving notifications from Apple stating that their Apps have been pulled from the Chinese store.
ExpressVPN wrote in a blog post that Apple explained that its products violated Chinese law, and said that they found that “all major VPN apps for iOS ave been removed” from the store. Another company, Star VPN, also reported receiving the notice.
In a statement to TechCrunch, Apple cited new regulations from Chinese regulators concerning the approval of VPNs.
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.
ExpressVPN said that it was disappointed to see Apple “aiding China’s censorship agents,” and condemned the removals. The country appears to be pushing back against the usage of VPNs, launching a campaign to block companies from setting up or renting out such networks without official approval earlier this year. Some users — those who have a billing address outside of China — can still download the apps from the App stores from other territories.
Update July 30th, 4:25PM: This article has been updated to include a statement from Apple.