During Apple’s Tuesday fiscal Q3 2017 earnings call, Apple CEO Tim Cook took the opportunity to respond to the criticism of the Cupertino firm’s removal of numerous Virtual Private Network (VPN) apps from the Chinese iOS App Store last weekend.
Cook says the company was following new Chinese government regulations, which is what the company would do in any country it operates in. The government there began cracking down on VPN apps and related services in 2015. Chinese regulators require VPN operators to obtain a license to offer such services.
Renewed efforts to enforce existing policy prompted scrutiny and the ultimate removal of certain apps in the App Store. Though Cook did not elaborate on the matter, it can be assumed a bulk of the culled apps were marketed by developers who lacked proper licensing.
“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. “And 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. So we believe in engaging with governments even when we disagree.”
Cook says “hundreds” of VPN apps are still available to Chinese users, including apps developed and distributed by app makers outside of China. While Apple is an outspoken proponent of free speech, the company did comply with government regulations in this case.
“In this particular case, commenting on this one, we’re hopeful that over time the restrictions we’re seeing are loosened, because innovation really requires freedom to collaborate and communicate, and I know that that is a major focus there,” he said.
Cook responded to those that argue Apple did the opposite last year in relation to the U.S. government’s requests to access an iPhone connected to the San Bernardino terror attack, saying that situation was “very different.”
“The law in the U.S. supported us, it was very clear. In the case of China, the law is also very clear there,” Cook said. “Like we would if the U.S. changed the law here, we have to abide by them in both cases. That doesn’t mean we don’t state our point of view in the appropriate way, we always do that.”
The Chinese government’s restrictions on VPNs are only part of the Chinese government’s new “cybersecurity laws” which restrict user’s internet usage more than ever. The new laws also require foreign companies that store Chinese citizens’ user data to do so on servers based in China. Earlier this month, Apple took steps to comply with the new regulations by launching its first China-based data center.