Apple removes VPN apps from China App Store to comply with government

China is trying to stop people from getting around its internet filter with virtual private networks and is requiring Apple to comply with new regulations.
Written by Jake Smith, Contributor
(Image: Sarah Tew/CNET)

Apple has pulled virtual private network (VPN) apps from its China app store available on iOS devices, developers reported over the weekend.

Apple sent notifications to developers in China explaining their VPN app was removed from the Apple App Store. The apps included "content that is illegal in China, which is not in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines," the letter stated.

VPNs are popular in China, allowing users to get around the country's internet filter dubbed the Great Firewall. It blocks access from sites including Facebook, Twitter, New York Times, and more.

"We have been required to remove some VPN apps in China that do not meet the new regulations," Apple told the New York Times in a statement. "These apps remain available in all other markets where they do business."

The new regulations in China require developers offering VPNs to obtain a government license. China is requiring its big three phone carriers to block access to VPNs by February 2018 in a campaign aimed at "cleaning and standardizing" access to the internet.

"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," wrote VPN developer ExpressVPN in a statement.

This isn't the first time Apple has complied with the Chinese government to remove content from the app store. In January, the New York Times app was removed from the app store without explanation.

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