July 29 (UPI) -- Virtual-private network, or VPN, applications have been removed from Apple's Chinese app store. Foreign companies had developed the apps to get around China's Internet filters.
British Virgin Islands-based app developer, ExpressVPN, shared a letter it received from Apple stating the application was removed from the China app store because it includes content that is illegal in China.
"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," ExpressVPN said. "ExpressVPN strongly condemns these measures, which threaten free speech and civil liberties."
Residents in China utilize VPNs to get around the "Great Firewall" that censors Chinese Internet and limits access.
On Sunday Yokubaitis, president of VyperVPN developer Golden Frog said its app was also removed from the app store, the New York Times reported.
"We gladly filed an amicus brief in support of Apple in their backdoor encryption battle with the F.B.I. 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 said.
Yokubaitis added that the company considers the removal of the app as a detriment to human rights in China.
"We view access to Internet in China as a human rights issue, and I would expect Apple to value human rights over profits," he said.
Star VPN tweeted it had received notice that Apple was "removing all VPN apps" from the China app store.
Users in mainland China said the Windows, Mac and Android versions of the targeted VPN software were still accessible, the South China Morning Post reported. Alternatives developed in China, including Benteng and Flying Bird, were also available but users reported problems with connectivity and stability.
China, Apple's largest market outside the United States, pledged to crack down on unapproved VPNs and restricted other online content as part of a 14-month campaign to "clean up" the Internet.