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Apple chief on Chinese VPN app ban: We always toe the line with other nations' laws

Situation is 'very different' to San Bernadino case

By Rebecca Hill, 2 Aug 2017

Apple boss Tim Cook has said that his company would "rather not" remove apps from its store – but has to comply with the law in China.

His comments come after it was revealed that Apple has removed a number of the virtual private network apps that allow users to circumvent the Great Firewall from its Chinese store.

Cook was responding to a question about the move from an analyst on the firm's Q3 earnings call yesterday.

He said that Apple had no choice but to follow the stricter laws laid down by Chinese authorities, which require that everyone who operates a VPN must have government permission to do so.

Late last month, Apple capitulated and removed some VPN apps from its Chinese store, including ExpressVPN and Star VPN, which both received notice of Apple's decision on July 29.

ExpressVPN said at the time that it was "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".

However, Cook's response was that his firm had no choice – and that it was better to try to "engage" with governments it disagreed with.

"We would obviously rather not remove the apps, but like we do in other countries, we follow the law wherever we do business," Cook said.

"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. And so we believe in engaging with governments even when we disagree."

He also tried to separate the firm's decision to comply with Chinese rules from when it stood up to the US government by refusing to hack the San Bernadino shooter's phone last year.

Some folks have tried to link it to the US situation last year, and they're very different. In the case of the US, the law in the US supported us, which 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'd have to abide by them in both cases. That doesn't mean that we don't state our point of view in the appropriate way. We always do that.

Cook did concede, though, that heavy regulations can stifle innovation, saying that the company was "hopeful that over time the restrictions that we're seeing are loosened because innovation really requires freedom to collaborate and communicate".

China is a lucrative market for Apple, and the company last month opened its first data centre in the nation, also in order to fall in line with Beijing's tougher new cybersecurity laws.

These say that data on Chinese citizens must be stored within the country, as well as that all cloud services need to be operated by Chinese companies.

Apple is working with the Chinese data management firm Guizhou-Cloud Big Data Industry so it can still offer iCloud services to customers in the country.

At the time, Cupertino said that "no backdoors will be created into any of our systems". ®

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