DHARAMSHALA, Aug. 2: Against the back drop of China’s intensifying Internet censorship drive, tech giant Apple has removed many Virtual Private Network (VPN) Apps from its Chinese App store over the weekend.
BBC which cited data from www.aso100.com, reported that more than 60 VPNs were no longer available in Apple’s China App Store.
In January, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology mandated that VPN service providers obtain license from the government. Many say that Apple has over-stepped privacy concerns of users placing business and market ambitions at the fore.
Apple responded to criticism in the media and industry observers saying that the company is legally required to follow the rules of the land in which it is operating. “We would obviously rather not remove the apps, but like we do in other countries, we follow the law wherever we do business. And so we believe in engaging with governments even when we disagree,” Apple’s CEO Tim Cook said in a statement.
The VPN services that essentially helps users to access banned sites and contents and evade censorship by masking the IP addresses, have helped patrons in China bypass China’s “great firewall” over the years. Experts say that VPN applications have been instrumental, particularly for Chinese businessmen who need to connect to the outside world on neutral platforms as well as dissidents and activists including Tibetans who need to rally political messages and connect with the world against ever diminishing freedom in the country.
VPN App developer and service provider Golden Frog’s president Sunday Yokubaitis in a blog post wrote, “If Apple views accessibility as a human right, we would hope Apple will likewise recognize internet access as a human right (the UN has even ruled it as such) and would choose human rights over profits.”
Here in the virtual capital of the Tibetan exile set up, sentiments are not far off. Digital Security Programs Director at Tibet Action Institute, Lobsang Gyatso Sither told Phayul that Apple has sided with censorship and is abetting in denying rights of users in China and occupied Tibet.“With the recent removal of around 60 VPN apps from Apple Store China, Apple has essentially become the new Great Firewall of China. Apple app store is structured in such a way that it is almost impossible for the common man to install an app if it is removed from the Local App Store. So in essence, Apple has denied access to Tibetans and Chinese from the free and open internet,” Sither told Phayul.
Apple joins tech companies such as Amazon and Facebook, which has banned VPNs and filtered contents on Tibet respectively.