Did Apple's Tim Cook Just Sell Out to Chinese Censors?

China's Struggle for a Free Internet Worsens as Apple Removes VPN Apps from its Store

The move has attracted criticism from VPN service provider, which has accused the company of bowing to pressure from Beijing cyber regulators.

VPN service providers in China on Saturday received a notification from Apple that their applications would be removed from the App Store "because it includes content that is illegal in China". Apple has not explained that the apps that have been removed are the unlicensed ones.

Sunday Yokubaitis, the president of Golden Frog, which makes VyprVPN, told The New York Times that their app had also been removed by Apple.

"Earlier this year China's MIIT announced that all developers offering VPNs must obtain a license from the government".

According to the Apple, they had to remove the VPN apps due to their inability to conform to new legal regulations set by the company.

In a statement, Apple confirmed that the VPN apps were pulled from the App Store, but did not go into specific details as to how many, adding that others are still available for the moment. VPNs give citizens a work around the so-called "great firewall of China" which not only censors politically sensitive websites, but also prevents access to other websites blocked in the country for fairly predictable reasons: Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube amongst others. The law will take effect on November 1.

The Beijing has shut down the most of the China based providers, and it has to target the overseas services to bids to tighten to its control the over the internet service.

China is Apple's third-largest market, behind North America and Europe and the company has been struggling there in recent quarters.

"By setting up a data centre and pulling VPNs, (Apple) is sending a friendly signal to the Chinese government", said Liu Xingliang, head of the DCCI Internet Research Institute. Chinese authorities now block access from multiple sites including Facebook, Twitter and more. Meanwhile, Apple's sales in China-not growth, but actual sales revenue-dropped 14 percent in the most recent quarter's earnings measured year over year. Censors forced Apple to shut down its online book and film stores just six months after launching, the New York Times reported past year, citing sources. VPNs and proxy websites are now inaccessible if the user does not have enough evidence of legal age or even a passport.

It's too soon to say what Apple's decision on VPNs will mean for the future of its business in China, or for its policy battles elsewhere. China continues being strictly an authoritarian regime in spite of it being the most populous country in the world.

"Apple CEO Tim Cook recently said "accessibility is a human right".

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