Following up on our ongoing battle for an uncensored, free and open Internet, China continues to enlist American companies in assisting their unjust and oppressive practice of silencing critics who challenge the status quo by removing any free and uncensored platform to information.
Last year Apple removed VyprVPN and over 60 other major VPN applications from their app store by decree from Chinese censors. Their crime? Providing unfettered Internet access to the Chinese people. We partnered with a nonprofit called Greatfire.org, which helps Internet users in China get around censorship, and called on Apple to provide more transparency into their dealings with government officials in China and any other location that demands the company remove apps the government view as threats to their regime. Our actions caught the attention of Senators Ted Cruz and Patrick Leahy, who subsequently penned their own letter to Apple asking for details around their decision to remove tools like VyprVPN from their Chinese app store.
Apple recently responded to their letter, offering a very transparent explanation of their actions in China – which we applaud them for. After all, Apple is a company that has changed the face of our industry and has previously stood up for privacy rights and causes in which they believe through their actions as a company and the technology they build into their products. While Apple has an incredible record of success in paving the way forward for the rest of the industry, when it comes to China they may have taken on too much; the country is steadfast in their oppressive ways, making regulations extremely difficult for any company to overcome.
In the letter, Cynthia Hogan, Vice President for Public Policy of the Americas, wrote to Senators Cruz and Leahy that Apple’s “presence in China helps promote greater openness and facilitates the free flow of ideas and information. […] We also work to promote fundamental rights in China.” The letter further explains that their promotion for rights and ideas is centered on employee rights and environmental protection, asserting that noncompliance – which in this case means refusing to operate in China – would be a worse option as it removes them from the conversation entirely.
This is all particularly salient this month, as the date for China’s announced VPN ban to take effect (February 2018) approaches. In advance of this potential extreme censorship event, it’s important, not to mention scary, to consider what other companies may be asked to comply with and perpetuate censorship. As such, we would remind Apple that previous companies have trudged down this road before. In fact, the very technology that makes up China’s Great Firewall was designed and implemented by U.S. companies also seeking to get a foothold in that market. Cisco, and Juniper upgraded China’s network in 2004, which has been the backbone that allows the government censor its citizens.
Others like Yahoo and Google probably had the same vision of promoting peace and freedom, only to realize they helped build a virtual tomb that has taken oppressiveness to a new level. Yahoo, Google, Cisco and Juniper have been replaced by Chinese services or will be completely replaced in the near future. It is only a matter of time before Apple will be systematically copied and replaced too by a Chinese company. Apple says it wants to “be a part of conversation” but in reality, is sacrificing their core beliefs to protect its market share in China.
A common misconception is that China is a naïve country working its way onto the global stage. In reality, China is an 8,000-year-old civilization, whose current regime has proven time and time again that it will do whatever it takes to maintain their positions above all else. We strongly urge Apple to reconsider their Faustian dealings with this government.
We believe deeply in the power of the Internet to connect people and ideas and will continue our mission to be keep the Internet open and free. We will continue to work hard to make VyprVPN available so our Chinese users can seek unfiltered Internet access, and exercise their human right to share their opinion without the associated criminal judgement for anyone that speaks outside of authorized barriers set by China’s politburo.