The Great Firewall of China just got a little bit greater. VPNs have long been one of the most useful tools for internet users in China. With the ability to route traffic to different geographic locations, the vast majority of blocked websites – Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and more – could be accessed from anywhere within the country.
However, it was only a matter of time before the Chinese government took steps to intervene. A few weeks ago, Apple removed 60+ VPN apps from the Apple Store, in an unprecedented move, spurred by China’s growing restrictions on VPN and internet use.
Licensing Restrictions Limit VPN Development In China
These VPN applications were removed because they were unlicensed. Rather than banning VPNs altogether, the Chinese government has adopted a different tactic. VPN developers must be licensed – a very difficult and time-consuming process that amounts to a “de facto” ban for most small VPNs.
This is because licenses are very expensive and require quite a bit of paperwork to be properly applied for – and there’s no guarantee of approval. In addition, licensed VPN developers must work with the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, meaning that user data may not necessarily remain private, and safe from government prying.
In essence, this also means that all foreign VPNs are banned – and users without a VPN app already installed are going to have a very difficult time obtaining good VPN.
These restrictions adhere to a long-standing Chinese government policy – “control, not closure”. While it’s unlikely that VPNs will be completely banned in China, the government needs to have control over which ones are used, and this latest restriction is the next step in doing so.
The UN Has Intervened, Writing Apple CEO Tim Cook Directly
David Kaye, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Opinion and Expression, recently released a strongly-worded letter directed at Apple CEO Tim Cook. In the letter, he expresses his concerns; most notably, that Apple is going against their previous dedication to human rights and the freedom of expression.
While there has been no formal reply as of yet, it seems unlikely that Apple will reverse their decision. China’s app market is incredibly strong, and one of the main sources of revenue for the company. While Apple may pride themselves on championing human rights, it seems that their desire to remain on good terms with the Chinese government will overwhelm their values.