Apple Removes 25 VPN Apps at Russia's Request

Following a request from the Russia’s communication regulator Roskomnadzor, Apple has removed 25 VPN applications from the App Store.

Following a request from the Russia’s communication regulator Roskomnadzor, Apple has removed 25 VPN (Virtual Private Networks) applications from the country’s App Store.

This action has led to increased fear among VPN providers.

The news agency, Interfax, reported last week that Apple had taken down 25 VPN apps from its Russian App Store. This was after a directive issued by Roskomnadzor, which ensures that in the country, internet access is managed, and state surveillance is heavy on citizens’ online activities.

VPNs are crucial for internet users in countries where internet access is heavily restricted, as they enable users to circumvent censorship and access blocked websites. These services allow people to navigate the web freely while hiding their location to avoid exposing their information.

Apple informed TechCrunch through Le VPN and Red Shield VPN that it was taking down their applications. Apple cited compliance with Russian law as the reason for deleting the apps.

“We are writing to notify you that your application, per demand from Roskomnadzor, will be removed from the Russia App Store because it includes content that is illegal in Russia and is not in compliance with the App Review Guidelines,” Apple stated in a letter to Red Shield VPN, according to a screenshot shared with TechCrunch by Vladislav Zdolnikov, the company’s CEO and founder.

The letter highlighted the necessity for apps to respect all legal regimes in which they are accessible. Failure to do so may lead to instances of removal.

This has been followed by a crackdown on VPNs as part of a broader move by the government to control internet access, including a ban on VPN advertising ahead of the country’s recent elections.

Despite these attempts, VPN services such as Red Shield VPN, HideMName, and Le VPN have continued to invent new ways of bypassing censorship. Zdolnikov pointed out the ongoing efforts to ensure services remain available despite restrictions.

“We know how to circumvent these restrictions and are constantly improving our services. Despite years of efforts aimed at blocking our services, we remain accessible,” he said.

He also condemned Apple for assisting Russian authorities in their censorship drive.

Apple informed Konstantin Votinox, CEO of Le VPN, that his company’s app had been removed on July 4th. According to Votinox, Roskomnadzor flagged the app’s description on the App Store as “infringing content.” He expressed frustration that there was no platform for addressing these issues before its removal.

Apple had previously halted hardware exports to Russia and limited some services in protest of the invasion of Ukraine. However, its App Store remains operational in Russia. Apple has not responded to requests for comment regarding the recent VPN app removals. The Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C. also did not provide an immediate response.

Operations of Companies

Companies operate from country to country rather than business to business. The main target of companies, in this case, Apple, is thriving economies.

Russia’s economy ranks 12th in the world today by GDP. Let us not forget that Apple is an American company, and the U.S. is facing geopolitical tension with China, and who else is better to replace China than Russia? Although Apple did jump on the trend of standing with Ukraine, it did not last long because it was not to their benefit.

The dynamic of the equation has changed, and day by day, it is shown that even Apple, as big as it is, would abide by political rules and regulations for the sake of their growth.

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