Apple’s actions in China regarding the removal of unlicensed VPN apps are not at odds with its refusal in the US to unlock an iPhone that belonged to a San Bernardino shooter, Apple’s chief executive said during Tuesday’s post-earnings conference call with investors and analysts.
“Some folks have tried to link it to the US situation last year, but they’re very different,” he said.
He then explained why there’s no double standard:
In the case of the US, the law in the US supported us. It was very clear. In the case of China, the law is also very clear there, and like we would if the US changed the law here, we would have to abide by it in both cases.
That doesn’t mean we don’t state our point of view, in the appropriate way.
We always do that.
The Chinese government announced this year that all developers offering VPN services and apps needed to obtain a government license. Confronted with questions about the VPN situation in China, Cook said Apple was simply responding to new regulations.
Here’s the rest of the quote:
The central government in China back in 2015 started tightening the regulations associated with VPN apps—and we have a number of those on our store. Essentially, as a requirement for someone to operate a VPN, they have to a have a license from the government there.
Earlier this year, they began a renewed effort to enforce that policy, and we were required by the government to remove some of the VPN apps from the App Store that don’t meet these new regulations. We understand that those same requirements are for other app stores, and as we checked through, that was the case.
Today, there’s still hundreds of VPN apps on the App Store, including hundreds by developers that are outside of China, so there continues to be VPN apps available.
We would obviously rather not remove the apps, but like we do in other countries, we follow the law wherever we do business. We strongly believe that participating in markets and bringing benefits to customers is in the best interest of the folks there, and in other countries as well. We believe in engaging with governments, even when we disagree.
Cook is hopeful that over time, the restrictions on VPN apps in China will be loosened, “because innovation requires freedom to collaborate and communicate.”
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“Earlier this year, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced that all developers offering VPNs must obtain a license from the government,” an Apple spokesperson told TechCrunch on Monday. “We have been required to remove some VPN apps in China that do not meet the new regulations.”
The same day, Russian President Putin signed a law prohibiting VPN services, which went into force yesterday, to stop people from accessing websites that are banned in the country.