Greater China is Apple’s largest market outside the United States.
HONG KONG — China appears to have received help Saturday from an unlikely source in its fight against tools that help users evade its Great Firewall of internet censorship: Apple.
Software made by foreign companies to help users skirt China’s system of internet filters has vanished from Apple’s App Store on the mainland.
One company, ExpressVPN, posted a letter it had received from Apple saying its app had been taken down “because it includes content that is illegal in China.”
Another tweeted from its official account that its app had been removed.
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A search Saturday showed that a number of the most popular foreign virtual-private networks, also known as VPNs, which give users access to the unfiltered internet in China, were no longer accessible on the company’s App Store there.
ExpressVPN wrote in its blog that the removal was “surprising and unfortunate.”
It added, “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.”
Sunday Yokubaitis, president of Golden Frog, a company that makes privacy and security software, including VyprVpn, said its software, too, had been taken down from the App Store. “We gladly filed an amicus brief in support of Apple in their backdoor encryption battle with the FBI,” he said, “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.”
He added, “We view access to internet in China as a human-rights issue, and I would expect Apple to value human rights over profits.”
In a statement, Apple noted that the Chinese government announced this year that all developers…