Apple

Apple kowtows to China, pulls some VPN apps from Chinese App Store

The tech giant's move has sparked criticism from service providers, who say that Virtual Private Networks are crucial for users bypassing the so-called "Great Firewall of China."

Over the weekend, Apple was forced to remove the VPN apps from the local version of the App Store after the Chinese government appears to have sent a message on government censorship.

When asked for comment by Fox News, an Apple spokesman said: "Earlier this year China's [Ministry of Industry and Information Technology] announced that all developers offering VPNs must obtain a license from the government. We have been required to remove some VPN apps in China that do not meet the new regulations. These apps remain available in all other markets where they do business."

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VPNs allow Chinese internet users to bypass the country's firewall, using them to circumvent the restrictions China places on foreign websites, as well as hiding internet browsing activity from internet service providers. Websites such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are all blocked in China.

Several VPN companies knocked the move, saying Apple may not fully realize what it has done by removing these apps.

"NordVPN stands for freedom of speech, and we will do all we can to make sure Internet users in China have full access to Internet," said Marty P. Kamden, NordVPN's chief marketing officer in a statement to Fox News. "We think that Apple might not realize full repercussions of removing VPN apps from China, since there are also many freedom fighters or those in opposition to the government who need VPNs to remain anonymous or face a serious danger to their safety.”

NordVPN is still working in China, but Kamden added that the company never had an Apple app as it was "expecting similar issues."

StarVPN, which had its VPN app blocked, tweeted the movie is a "dangerous precedent."

Edward Snowden also criticized the move in a number of tweets.

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China is Apple's third-largest market, behind North America and Europe and the company has been struggling there in recent quarters.

In its fiscal second-quarter, Apple generated $10.7 billion in sales from Greater China, down 34 percent from the previous quarter and 14 percent from a year ago. 

Apple reports third-quarter earnings on Aug. 1, which Drexel Hamilton analyst Brian White noted could see another drop in Greater China sales.

The company recently named Isabel Ge Mahe to be its first vice president and managing director of its business in Greater China, starting later this summer. Prior to this, Mahe had been Apple's vice president of Wireless Technologies.

“Apple is strongly committed to invest and grow in China, and we are thrilled that Isabel will be bringing her experience and leadership to our China team,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook announcing the change. “She has dedicated a great deal of her time in recent years to delivering innovation for the benefit of Apple customers in China, and we look forward to making even greater contributions under her leadership.”