GIVING IN:Providers of VPN services expressed disappointment over the company’s rush to comply with Chinese demands, but said there remained ways to install VPNs
Apple Inc yesterday said it is removing virtual private network (VPN) services from its app store in China, drawing criticism from VPN service providers, who accuse the US tech giant of bowing to pressure from Beijing cyber regulators.

VPNs allow users to bypass China’s restrictions on access to overseas sites.

In January, Beijing passed laws seeking to ban all VPNs that are not approved by state regulators. Approved VPNs must use state network infrastructure.

An Apple spokeswoman yesterday confirmed it is to remove apps that do not comply with the law from its China App Store, including services based outside the country.

Beijing has shut down dozens of China-based providers and it has been targeting overseas services as it bids to tighten its control over the Internet, especially ahead of the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in August.

While personal VPN providers have been the subject of state-led attacks in the past, this marks the first time Apple has complied with requests to scrub overseas providers from its store, a move that VPN providers said is unnecessarily supportive of China’s heightened censorship regime.

VPN provider ExpressVPN on Saturday said that it had received notice from Apple that its software would be removed from the China App Store “because it includes content that is illegal in China.”

“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 and we are troubled to see Apple aiding China’s censorship efforts,” ExpressVPN said in a statement.

Other major providers, including VyprVPN and StarVPN, confirmed they also received the notice from Apple on Saturday.

“We view access to Internet in China as a human rights issue and I would expect Apple to value human rights over profit,” Sunday Yokubaitis, president of Golden Frog, which oversees VyprVPN, told reporters yesterday.

Yokubaitis said Golden Frog will file an appeal to Apple over the ban.

Chinese users with billing addresses in other countries will still be able to access VPN apps from other branches of the App Store. A number of VPN apps were still accessible on the China App Store on Saturday.

VPN providers said that while the apps are not available on the store, users could still manually install them using VPN support built into Apple’s operating system.

“We are extremely disappointed that Apple has bowed to pressure,” Yokubaitis said. “[It’s been a] disappointing morning, but we will fight on.”