Apple has removed all major VPN apps, which help internet users overcome the country’s censorship system, from the App Store in China.
The App Store purge has a huge impact because VPNs VPNs allow users to bypass China’s so-called “Great Firewall” and represent the only way that a China-based individual can bypass state censorship controls to access the internet without restrictions.
The Chinese government effectively illegalized VPNs when new rules issued in January required them to receive government approval in order to operate.
In a statement on Sunday, an Apple spokeswoman confirmed it will remove apps that don’t comply with the law from its China App Store, including services based outside the country.
Apple says that it is complying with regulations put in place by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology earlier this year that require VPN apps to be licensed by the government.
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.
Currently there are some big state-owned companies that provide licensed VPNs, but this sweep removes most of the well-known and well-used VPNs from the store, making it harder for the average citizen to bypass monitoring and censorship.
While personal VPN providers have been the subject of state-led attacks in the past, this marks the first time Apple has complied with requests to scrub overseas providers from its store, a move that VPN providers say is unnecessarily supportive of China’s heightened censorship regime.
China users with billing addresses in other countries will still be able to access VPN apps from other branches of the App Store. VPN providers say that while the apps are not available on the store, users are still able to manually install them using VPN support built into Apple’s operating system.