Many Apple users were caught by surprise when the company notified that it would remove all VPN applications from the China app store on the 29th of July 2017. Several VPN service providers made statements at the time and shared their disappointment as well as a surprise during the unfortunate event. Apple was caught up in a fight for censorship and privacy, and the Chinese Government got the upper hand.
The MIIT in China already announced earlier in the same year that all service providers of VPNs were required to obtain licenses from the Chinese Government. Failing to comply with the new law would end the service providers from offering VPN services to the market.
Apple made a statement that it wished to comply with the rules of the MIIT in China, the Ministry of Industry, as well as the Information Technology, announced the restrictions and laws in January. The new rule in China states that unlicensed VPN service use is a crime and that it will remain unlawful until further notice in March 2018. Apple’s CEO made a public remark that the company were not thrilled with the order but had to comply with the laws of the country.
What has China Got Against VPN Services?
The big question on everyone’s minds is the reason for the ruling and the answer most comes up with is that the Communist Party is utilising its tight control and power to gain access to citizen’s information. It is known that the Great Firewall used by China restricts news, restricts resources and the locals are mostly unable to browse for any material that is related to democracy. China is anti-free speech and has a long list of cybersecurity laws that completely forbid the use of accounts that are anonymous. All users are forced to use their “real” names, and there are a variety of cybercrimes that could get citizens arrested. The punishable crimes include overthrowing the socialist system, damaging the national unity and the country is known for arresting journalists that dared report truthfully on the slowing economy, it was claimed that the journalists were lying in order to disturb the current economic order in the country.
The fall in 2017 marked the five-year conference of the Communist Party in China, and many feel this could be the reason for the tightening of cybersecurity, and at the same time, it could mean a smoother event. Previously Apple was also requested to remove the New York Times from the App store in China in January 2017. There is still no clarity regarding the time-period of the app removals although it is not classified as a ban. The situation offers much confusion since no definite rules are laid down before VPN use was not frowned upon and VPN service providers could offer services without a license, which also changed in January.
According to Forbes, the use of VPNs is allowed in China as long as it is state-controlled and the service is available primarily to companies with deep pockets like law firms and other financial institutions that warrants broader internet access. The use of VPNs is legal as long as the VPN service provider is registered and used predominantly by businesses.
China Citizens Might Find It Challenging to Use VPNs
The confusion is what upsets most citizens although those who purchased VPN services from outside China can continue to use it for now. Most users feel that China is making it a lot more difficult to use a VPN service especially now that Apple has blocked all VPN apps.
On the other hand, Apple is doing what most companies would and mainly it is complying with the business laws of China, and by removing the unauthorised apps from the Apple store, Apple shows that it respects the laws of the country. Apple released a statement that shared that the company would prefer not to remove VPN apps but like in any country where Apple operates the laws will be abided.
Why Thousands Blamed & Criticized Apple
Pro-democracy activists blame Apple, which includes the secretary of Hong Kong, Chi-Fung from the Demosisto political party. Chi-Fung shared on Twitter that the company puts profit values above human rights and the New York Times warns that it was a dangerous precedent since Apple has been spending the past two years that it will always respect the privacy of its customers, governments, laws and other tech companies.
Apple’s promise to respect privacy have also previously led to criticism when the company refused to unlock and iPhone 5C in the wake of the war against the FBI and the US Government when the mentioned phone was believed to belong to one of the attackers. Apple stood by it believe that its customers had the right to privacy and the FBI later withdrew its request. Apple’s role as the protector of all its user’s privacy ensures more favouritism for the company. Apple believes that every user has a fundamental right to privacy and for many, it was easier to lighten the action of the iPhone company than to face the law by the Government of China.
After all, Apple is not the only company that obeys the new laws of China, and in the VPN crackdown, several other companies agreed to the same. Apple had a different situation in San Bernardino to deal with when the arcane law was used against the company by FBI to force Apple to rewrite the iOS program to make is less secure. Should Apple have compiled at the time, millions of user’s data would be open to government snooping, fraud, hacks and unwarranted prying. In this instance, Apple refused since it would compromise user’s security.
Government Changes to VPN Laws
The China Government pre-warned all VPN service providers that they would need to apply for licenses in January. Apple was instructed to remove unauthorised apps in July of 2017 and have always agreed to comply with government rules. However, VPN use is legal in China provided that the VPN service is licensed in China. China uses the Great Firewall for many reasons and individuals that use VPNs to access internet on their iPads or iPhones will need to either register with licensed Chinese VPNs or use different platforms.
China is not the only country that made unlicensed VPN use illegal, and according to the BBC news, the new laws in Russia signed by President Vladimir Putin restricts anonymisers.
The new law in Russia ban VPN use and restricts access to all banned websites. The new Russian law is in place to further restrict access to unlawful sites. Many Russian citizens agonise regarding the new law although IP experts have shared that the new law does provide exemptions for corporate VPNs.
A second new law is effective in Russia from the 1st of November and ban anonymous online messaging services from the 1st of January. Internet security companies suggest that it would make the snooping form the state on citizens browsing activities easier and the second law also includes that all internet operators now need to restrict users access if they found to be distributing any illegal content.
VPN usage is blocked in several countries, and the reason for the internet censorships range from keeping political stability to maintaining national security as well as imposing traditional social values. The long list of countries where internet censorship blocks the use of VPNs include Myanmar, Vietnam, Tunisia, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Cuba, India, and Ethiopia to name only a few. Several countries have banned VPN use in order to keep a view of all citizens’ online activities and movements and with VPNs offering users a way to bypass the censorships many countries have outlawed the use of the services.