Apple Assists Chinese Government with Its Crackdown on VPNs

July 31, 2017 - 2 minutes read

Apple is the largest company in the world by market valuation, thanks in large part to its controversial relationship with China. Other than the United States, China is Apple’s largest market, and the company has had to fight in recent years to hold onto its business there. The Chinese government continues to crack down on open internet access and is forcing foreign tech firms to comply with its demands or else. iPhone app developers have watched with mounting concern as Apple capitulates to the government’s troubling restrictions, seemingly turning its back on principles that have earned the company respect in the tech world.

Over the weekend iPhone app developers witnessed perhaps the most egregious violation of Apple’s alleged core principles as the company removed virtual-private networks from its Chinese App Store. VPNs are critical tools for Chinese citizens hoping to access the uncensored internet. Apple has stood up for privacy and security in the past, most notably in its resistance to the FBI’s call for backdoor encryption. But now Apple appears to be putting its business relationship with the Chinese government over its values.

“We view access to internet in China as a human rights issue, and I would expect Apple to value human rights over profits,” said Sunday Yokubaitis, the president of privacy software company Golden Frog. Apple is playing it off as simply following the rules; China now requires all VPNs to register for government licenses. Of course, acquiring one of those licenses is probably next to impossible. The so-called Great Firewall is ramping up in preparation for this year’s Chinese Communist Party congress, and the attacks on digital freedom are more severe than ever before. New York City iPhone app developers are worried about their brothers in China — and they are uneasy with Apple’s decision to side with an authoritarian government. The company can frame it as a practical business decision or just following the rules, but however they explain it, they are now interfering in people’s freedom.

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