Tim Cook defends Apple’s decision to pull VPN apps from China

Apple CEO Tim Cook defended his company’s decision to pull more than 60 virtual private network (VPN) apps from China during the company’s earnings call Tuesday, explaining that Apple is merely following the rules set by the Chinese government.

Apple on Monday removed dozens of VPN apps and sparked outrage among free speech and digital rights advocates, who say the Chinese use VPNs to get around their government’s stringent online censorship rules.

A virtual private network allows internet users to safely secure their connections to another network. VPN is often used by corporations to allow employees to sign onto intranets. In China, VPNs are used to bypass “The Great Firewall” and surf the internet without government surveillance.

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After adopting tighter regulations on VPNs in 2015, the Chinese government began cracking down on VPNs earlier this year. One-upping Beijing, Russia this week banned VPNs altogether.

Cook explained that Apple’s removal of the apps was in line with its past experiences working with different countries and their rules.

“We would obviously rather not remove the apps, but like we do in other countries, we follow the law wherever we do business,” said Cook. “We strongly believe participating in markets and bringing benefits to customers is in the best interest of the folks there and in other countries as well.”

,VPN services publicly criticized Apple for setting a dangerous precedent.

“Cook recently said ‘accessibility is a human right.’ If Apple views accessibility as a human right, we would hope Apple will likewise recognize Internet access as a human right and would choose human rights over profits,” wrote one service, Golden Frog, in its company blog post.

In its latest quarter, Apple comfortably beat all Wall Street expectations, such as revenue and iPhones sold worldwide. The Cupertino tech giant sold 41 million iPhones in the past quarter and a total of 1.2 billion in the past 10 years.

While Apple’s revenues grew double-digits compared to last year in the Americas, Europe and Asia Pacific, it saw a 10 percent decline in Greater China, which includes China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Sales of iPhones have been sluggish in the past year in the region, and Apple appointed longtime vice president of wireless technology Isabel Ge Mahe last month as its new head of operations in China to revive Apple sales.

In the earnings call, Cook placed most of the blame for Greater China’s decline in revenue to Hong Kong. Cook noted mainland China’s revenue grew 6 percent last quarter in adjusted currency terms.

Cook also addressed criticisms about Apple’s soft stance on VPNs in China despite refusing to cooperate with the FBI last year on unlocking the iPhone of the San Bernardino terrorism shooter.

“They’re very different,” Cook said. “In the case of China, the law is very clear there. Like we would if the U.S. changed the law here, we have to abide by them in both cases.”

Unlike in Russia, VPNs are still available in China but they require a license from the government. Cook did not address Russia’s outright ban on VPNs during his earnings call.

Photo: Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at the Worldwide Developer’s Conference on June 13, 2016 in San Francisco. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)


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