Apple faces backlash for giving in to China's demands

China's internet crackdown is taking a toll on software developers.

Apple's partner developers are disappointed by the iPhone maker's sudden decision to shut down virtual private networks (VPN) in China's App Store. The VPNs are the sole means to help users escape a system of internet filters and in China's case, the Great Firewall.

China's internet censor has been going on for a couple of years and developers are seeking to help Chinese users to avoid it through VPNs. In a new order received by Apple from the Chinese government, the company was forced to take down VPN software from its App Store within Greater China.

Troubled VPN firms

Express VPN International Ltd announced on Saturday that its ExpressVPN app on Apple's App Store in China has been taken down. Apple notified the developer through a letter, explaining the Express VPN "includes content that is illegal in China".

In its statement, released on the same day, Express VPN said Apple's move "is surprising and unfortunate", adding that it "strongly condemns" such measure as it poses threats to free speech and civil liberties.

"We're disappointed in this development, as it represents the most drastic measure the Chinese government has taken to block the use of VPNs to date", states Express VPN, "and we are troubled to see Apple aiding China's censorship efforts".

Later in the day, it turned out that Express VPN is not the only company affected as other VPN developers have come forward.

Golden Frog's VyprVPN software has been taken down as well but without prior notice. Golden Frog president Sunday Yokubaitis cannot hide his dismay over Apple's decision.

"We gladly filed an amicus brief in support of Apple in their backdoor encryption battle with the F.B.I.", says Yokubaitis in a statement, "so we are extremely disappointed that Apple has bowed to pressure from China to remove VPN apps without citing any Chinese law or regulation that makes VPN illegal".

Yokubaitis further stated that internet access in China is a human rights issue, adding that Apple has "to value human rights over profits".

Despite this, Express VPN vows to pursue its commitment to keep internet connection safe and reliable. It says: "Our commitment to an open and free internet remains stronger than ever, and we will continue the fight in helping our users to stay connected, no matter where they are located".

Apple market share in China

Earlier this month, Apple announced that it is building its data centre in Guangdong, China in partnership with Guizhou-Cloud Big Data Industry Co Ltd to comply with the country's newly-signed cybersecurity law, which took effect on June 1.

Facebook's Dipayan Ghosh, President Barack Obama's former technology and economic adviser, said China is monopolising the technology market in the country, adding that it "is an attack to human rights and innovation". From his viewpoint, Apple is compliant to China's regulations because it is protecting its market share in the country.

On Thursday, IBTimes SG reported that Apple fell off to the fifth spot in China's best-selling smartphone vendor.