Tim Cook justifies removing VPN apps in China, claiming Apple was only following the law

During today’s quarter three earnings call, Apple CEO Tim Cook clarified that the removal of Virtual Private Network (VPN) apps in China late last week was due to a stronger enforcement of the law by the local Chinese government.

Cook states that in 2015, China tightened its policy around VPNs which required operators to obtain a license from the government. “Earlier this year, [China] began a renewed effort to enforce that policy,” Cook says. As many of the apps did not comply with the regulations, Apple was required to purge them from the App Store. “We would rather not remove apps, but like we do in other countries we follow the law wherever do we business.”

Cook also pushed back against comparisons to Apple’s refusal to unlock the iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernandino shooters in 2016, claiming that the US laws supported Apple in that case. In both the US and China’s circumstances, he says the laws were “very clear.”

Despite the VPN app removals, Cook stressed the company’s stance that it would offer products that are of the “best interest” of local consumers and hopes that China loosen the restrictions over time. “We believe in engaging with governments even when we disagree… because innovation really require freedom to collaborate and communicate,” he says. With China continuing to be a big growth market for Apple, it’s clear that Apple would rather abide by the law to continue operating in the country.

A number of VPN apps that apparently follow regulations are still available in the App Store in China, Cook adds. The CEO did not specifically call out or commented on a similar ban in Russia, which took place days after China removed the apps.