Apple CEO Tim Cook on Tuesday defended his company’s decision to stop offering special apps that let Chinese users circumvent the country’s internet restrictions.
The recent removal of some VPN apps from Apple’s App Store in China has prompted criticism, with some accusing Apple of bowing to pressure from Beijing and placing its business interests above its values.
VPN, or virtual private network, apps allow users to connect directly and securely to the internet, bypassing the filters that the Chinese government uses to block certain sites (including Google, YouTube, and Facebook).
Apple’s anti-VPN moveseemed at odds with the image it has sought to create for itself as a champion of freedom and privacy. In 2016, the company famously battled with the US FBI, refusing to help law-enforcement officials unlock an iPhone that belonged to one of the suspects in the December 2015 terror attack in San Bernardino, California, that killed 14 people.
Is there a double-standard?
Not at all, said Cook.
Cook was asked about Apple’s VPN move in China during the post-earnings conference call on Tuesday. He said that Apple was simply responding to stepped-up enforcement of Chinese regulations that require anyone operating a VPN to have a licence from the government. He noted that the App Store still offered “hundreds” of VPN apps from developers based outside of China and that Apple’s philosophy always involves “engaging” with governments it doesn’t agree with.
Here’s why Cook said Apple’s actions in China are not inconsistent with its values or its policies in the US:
“Some folks have tried to link it to the US situation last year. They’re very different. In the case of the US, the law in the US supported us. It was very clear. In the case of China, the law is also very clear there. Like we would if the US changed the law here, we would have to abide by it in both cases. That doesn’t mean that we don’t state our point of view in the appropriate way. We always do that.”