Russia bans VPNs; Apple removes VPN apps from Chinese App store

Virtual private networks (VPNs) have been banned by Russian President Vladimir Putin over concerns that they allow citizens access to web sites that are banned in the country.

The law, already approved by the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, will ban the use of VPNs and other technologies, known as anonymisers, that allow people to surf the web anonymously. The law comes into force on 1 November 2017.

Leonid Levin, the head of Duma’s information policy committee, has said the law is not intended to impose restrictions on law-abiding citizens, but is meant only to block access to “unlawful content,” RIA news agency said.

VPNs effectively create a secure, encrypted connection - a tunnel - between your computer and a server operated by the VPN service.

This allows applications running across the network to access web sites and other functionality that may not be allowed locally.

The new law will require proxies, VPNs, TOR and other anonymising services to prohibit access to blocked domains.

If these services fail to comply, they will be blocked themselves. Search engines also face sanctions for linking to banned sites.

Meanwhile, Apple is getting rid of apps that grant VPN access from its Chinese app store.

The move has drawn criticism from VPN service providers, who accuse the company of bowing to pressure from Beijing cyber regulators.

In January, Beijing passed laws seeking to ban all VPNs that are not approved by state regulators. Approved VPNs must use state network infrastructure.

In a statement on Sunday, an Apple spokeswoman confirmed it will remove apps that don’t comply with the law from its China App Store, including services based outside the country.

Beijing has shut down dozens of China-based providers and it has been targeting overseas services as it bids to tighten its control over the internet, especially ahead of the Communist Party congress in August.

While personal VPN providers have been the subject of state-led attacks in the past, this marks the first time Apple has complied with requests to scrub overseas providers from its store, a move that VPN providers say is unnecessarily supportive of China’s heightened censorship regime.

VPN provider ExpressVPN said on Saturday that it had received a notice from Apple that its software would be 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 in a statement.

Other major providers, including VyprVPN and StarVPN, confirmed they also received the notice on Saturday from Apple.

“We view access to internet in China as a human rights issue and I would expect Apple to value human rights over profit,” said Sunday Yokubaitis, president of Golden Frog, which oversees VyprVPN.

Yokubaitis said Golden Frog will file an appeal to Apple over the ban.

China users with billing addresses in other countries will still be able to access VPN apps from other branches of the App Store. A number of VPN apps were still accessible on the China App store on Saturday.

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