Russian and Chinese authorities are separately cracking down on the use of virtual private networks (VPNs). News surfaced over the weekend that all major VPN apps were pulled from Apple’s regional App Store in China. Similarly, Russia introduced new legislation that will likely ban VPNs in the Russian App Store.
On Saturday, July 29, ExpressVPN received an alert from Apple stating that their app had been pulled from the Chinese App Store because “it includes content that is illegal in China.” According to a blog post on the company’s website, their preliminary research also indicated that “all major VPN apps” have similarly been pulled from the App Store in the country. Chinese authorities passed regulations earlier in the year that required all VPN apps to be explicitly approved and licensed by the government.
As revealed in a statement to TechCrunch, Apple is simply complying with the new laws. “Earlier this year China’s [Ministry of Industry and Information Technology] 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 strongly condemned the move and added that they are “troubled” by Apple’s apparent decision to aid it.
Additionally, VPNs and privacy advocates also suffered another setback over the weekend. On Monday, the Russian government passed new legislation — signed into law by President Vladimir Putin — that would ban VPNs and other anonymity-based applications in the country. The new regulations will go into effect on Nov. 1, and presumably, will mean that VPNs will also be pulled from the Russian App Store.
Russian legislator Leonid Levin, who chairs the Duma’s committee on information and tech policy, said that the measure is meant to prohibit access to illegal content, rather than introduce more general access bans for law-abiding citizens, according to state-run media organization RIA. However, what counts as “illegal content” has expanded rapidly in Putin’s third term, TechCrunch points out. The move coincides with other Russian regulations cracking down on internet security and privacy, including a legislation in 2015 that required user data for Russian citizens to be stored locally.
Apple’s differing privacy policies have invited controversy in recent years. The company remains a staunch advocate for user security and privacy in the U.S., even going so far as to wrestle with the FBI over creating backdoors for iOS. In countries like Russia and China, on the other hand, Cupertino has shied away from those values in favor of market access.
VPNs are a staple of privacy advocates across the world, and their use has become more commonplace as news of government surveillance and corporate data-mining has become more prevalent. Indeed, for many iPhone users, VPNs have become more of a necessity than simply an extra layer of security.