Apple has removed all virtual private network (VPN) applications from its App Store in China, its second largest market outside of the U.S., in a move to comply with the country’s stringent cyber regulations. The move has been decried by major VPN providers, who supply services which help users circumvent China’s strict digital censorship systems.
ExpressVPN, a VPN provider whose services were removed on Saturday from the App Store, offered details of the situation in a company press release which voiced strong vitriol towards Apple’s decision.
“We received notification from Apple today, July 29, 2017, at roughly 04:00 GMT, that the ExpressVPN iOS app was removed from the China App Store. Our preliminary research indicates that all major VPN apps for iOS have been removed,” the company said in the statement.
Star VPN, which also provided VPN services on the App Store in China, tweeted that it, too, had been notified that all its apps would be pulled.
The digital crackdown on VPN services will prevent Chinese internet users from bypassing the country’s large digital firewall, which restricts access to certain sites such as Facebook.
ExpressVPN also released a message it had received from Apple, which noted that its app was being removed from the App Store in China “because it includes content that is illegal in China, which is not in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines.”
ExpressVPN noted that Chinese users with billing addresses in other countries, who access another territory’s App Store, “are not impacted; they can download the iOS app and continue to receive updates as before.”
“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,” Apple said in the statement.
— Star VPN (@star_vpn) July 29, 2017
CNN previously reported that Chinese officials cited a crackdown aimed at “cleaning and standardizing” access to the internet as the reasoning behind the new regulations.
“Our restrictions target service providers without licenses or operating illegally,” Zhang Feng, a spokesman for the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said at a press conference on Tuesday cited by CNN.
[Featured image by Andy Wong/AP Images]