Apple Pulls VPN Apps From China App Store As Russia Signs Law Banning Their Use

Russia has banned VPNs and other software that enables users to gain anonymous access to websites. The new law was signed by President Vladimir Putin on Monday and will come into effect on November 1st (via TechCrunch).

Leonid Levin, chairman of the Duma's committee on information policy and technology, was quoted by state-run media as saying that the new law is not targeted at "introducing new bans for law-abiding citizens" but aims to prohibit access to illegal content.

However, privacy advocates see the law as another way for the Russian government to restrict access to political content that it disagrees with. In 2015, it became mandatory for all user data from Russian citizens to be stored in Russian-based servers, and last year another law was passed making it necessary for internet service providers to retain traffic data for up to a year.

Recently the government threatened to block access to the Telegram encrypted messaging platform unless the company that runs the app provides more information about itself.

Elsewhere, virtual private networks took another blow over the weekend, as reports emerged that Apple has removed the majority of VPN apps from the App Store in China, following regulations passed earlier in the year that require such apps to be authorized by the Chinese government.

The action was first revealed by ExpressVPN, a provider based outside of China. The company said in a blog post that "all major VPN apps" including its own had been removed from the App Store. It also shared a note from Apple explaining that its app was removed 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 strongly condemns these measures, which threaten free speech and civil liberties," ExpressVPN wrote on its blog.
A few hours later, Apple shared a statement with TechCrunch explaining its decision to pull the apps from its App Store in China:
Earlier this year China’s MIIT announced that all developers offering VPNs must obtain a license from the government. We have been required to remove some VPN apps in China that do not meet the new regulations. These apps remain available in all other markets where they do business.
Earlier this month, China reportedly started blocking some features of the WhatsApp messaging service, as authorities continued to tighten controls over the country's internet.

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Tags: China, Russia, VPN

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Swiss Encrypted Email Provider Launches ProtonVPN With Free Subscription Tier

Encrypted email provider ProtonMail today launched its own VPN service called ProtonVPN, which includes a free user tier in its pricing plan.

The Swiss-based company said it had been testing its VPN service for four months with the help of over 10,000 members of the ProtonMail community, and the group was ready to make ProtonVPN available to everyone starting Tuesday.


The Proton group said they were motivated to create ProtonVPN to combat increased threats to online freedom, such as the recent repeal of Obama-era rules designed to protect consumer internet browsing history, calls by British Prime Minister Theresa May for increased online surveillance, and the attempts by the U.S. FCC to dismantle net neutrality.
"In the past year, we have seen more and more challenges against Internet freedom," said ProtonMail Co-Founder Dr. Andy Yen, "now more than ever, we need robust tools for defending privacy, security, and freedom online.

"The best way to ensure that encryption and privacy rights are not encroached upon is to get the tools into the hands of the public as soon as possible and widely distributing them," said Yen. "This is why, as with ProtonMail, we're committed to making a free version of ProtonVPN available to the world."
The group says it has worked to make the best possible VPN service by addressing many of the common pitfalls with existing VPNs. Features therefore include a Secure Core architecture that routes traffic through multiple encrypted tunnels in multiple countries to better defend against network based attacks, a no logs policy backed by Swiss law, as well as seamless integration with the Tor anonymity network. Headquartered in Switzerland, the VPN is also outside of E.U. and U.S. jurisdiction and is not a member of the fourteen eyes surveillance network.

The free tier includes servers in three countries and usage on one device, but bandwidth speeds cannot be guaranteed. The Basic tier costs $4 a month (billed as $48 a year) and includes access to all 112 ProtonVPN servers across 14 countries, high speed bandwidth, and usage on up to two devices, while the Plus tier ($8 per month/$96 per year) offers the highest bandwidth, connection on up to 5 devices, Tor servers, and access to Secure Core data networks hosted in Switzerland, Iceland, and Sweden. The Highest tier ($24 a month/$288 a year) includes a ProtonMail Visionary account.

ProtonMail began crowdfunding in May 2014 and launched in March 2016, led by a group of scientists from CERN and MIT who aimed to deliver an easy-to-use end-to-end encrypted email service with freely available open source code. Earlier this year, the team launched a Tor-based site to make ProtonMail available to users in regions under the oppression of strict state online censorship.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.


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