Apple has altered its app offerings in China, responding to demands from the Chinese government that aim to restrict software developers from providing customers with unfiltered internet use.
The Chinese government, led by President Xi Jinping, who also serves as the Communist Party's general secretary, recently enacted new controls on virtual private networks (VPNs), the New York Times reported. VPNs allow users to bypass the government’s "Great Firewall," but according to the Times, Apple removed all VPN apps previously available in the China App store.
Developers responded with disappointment to Apple's censorship of VPNs, which are commonly used around the world.
"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," app developer ExpressVPN said in a statement. "ExpressVPN strongly condemns these measures, which threaten free speech and civil liberties."
Apple explained its decision by citing Chinese regulations and its policy of adhering to local law, TechCrunch reported.
"Earlier this year China's MIIT announced that all developers offering VPNs must obtain a license from the government," Apple said in a statement. "We have been required to remove some VPN apps in China that do not meet the new regulations."
In an email to VPN developers, Apple said, "It is your responsibility to understand and make sure your app conforms with all local laws."
President of the software developer Golden Frog, Sunday Yokubaitis, said that Apple is not living up to the ideals it purported when the company refused in 2016 to cooperate with the FBI's request for backdoor encryption.
"We gladly filed an amicus brief in support of Apple in their backdoor encryption battle with the FBI, so we are extremely disappointed that Apple has bowed to pressure from China to remove VPN apps without citing any Chinese law or regulation that makes VPN illegal," Yokubaitis said.
The Chinese government has received cooperation from other companies including Facebook and Google. Furthermore, some academics consider the communist regime to be a leader in the liberal world order.
China has aggressively policed internet users for years, and in doing so, has conducted cyber attacks on disagreeable websites.
Despite the most recent setback, ExpressVPN said it will continue its effort to bring internet access to China.
"Users in China can continue to stay connected to the open internet with ExpressVPN's apps for Windows, Mac, Android, and other platforms," ExpressVPN said. "Our commitment to an open and free internet remains stronger than ever, and we will continue the fight in helping our users to stay connected, no matter where they are located."