China, the second largest market for the tech giant Apple, has been hit hard over the weekend. Apple have removed apps that previously allowed Chinese users to find a way around the tough censorship that the country is known for.
One popular app, ExpressVPN, was one of the many that were taken down by Apple as the content of the app is illegal in China.
Upon searching the app store, it was found that numerous popular virtual private networks (VPNs) were no longer accessible within the country.
The move has been one of the more widespread censorship efforts made by China, and many are condemning Apple for aiding the Chinese government in this controversial matter.
The company has responded to these claims in a statement, addressing an earlier announcement by the Chinese government illustrating that all VPN developers would need to obtain a government licence to offer their service.
“We have been required to remove some VPN apps in China that do not meet the new regulations,” Apple said in the statement, adding “these apps remain available in all other markets where they do business.”
The move is not the first time Apple has restricted apps at the request of the Chinese government, and highlights a new push by the government to control its country’s use of the internet. It has also affected a number of hotel services, which were forced to remove VPN services they provided for foreign guests.
Two well-known VPN services were also forced offline in China earlier this month, which stifled the accessibility of professionals who need global internet for their work and left them without an alternative. Recently China’s censorship apparatus, otherwise known as the Great Firewall, has been upgraded to use technology that disrupts VPNs in a more sophisticated way.
Although the strengthening of the Great Firewall has been common over the years, it marks the largest takedown through Apple. This comes after the move by China to also begin blocking of the Facebook-owned messaging app, WhatsApp.
VPNs are used widely within China to combat the Great Firewall that restricts foreign websites, publications, images, videos etc. from being viewed. They also provided users with private browsing, which restricted the internet service providers full access of browsing history. The tighter the clamp down on VPN services, the harder multinational enterprises will find it to conduct business.
The tightening come from a long-term drive by the Chinese President Xi Jinping to strengthen China’s internet against ‘outside threats’ through the controlling of data. As part of this, there are plans to review the internet services market, and crackdown on VPNs that do not hold government approval by March of 2018.