Starting this July 1st of 2017, all Chinese mobile Android and iOS stores will start prohibiting users from downloading VPN apps. In some ways, this event is a bit unremarkable or meaningless since TorGuard’s website is already blocked in China on most app stores. It’s simply a matter of downloading TorGuard’s .apk file and installing the VPN app manually. But the event does set a precedent in China towards increased aggression towards Chinese users looking to circumvent censorship.
As you might know, VPNs in China are heavily regulated and hard to use for Chinese people, but even more so than in the US–VPNs are almost mandatory to be used if Chinese users want access to an internet that isn’t butchered with restrictions and censored content. By using a VPN in China, users can circumvent IP restrictions and website restrictions and encrypt their internet so the Chinese government can’t snoop on them.
Since VPNs allow Chinese users unrestricted access to content, the Chinese government wants to restrict their use. The government doesn’t want people getting access to controversial political news which the government deems as terrorist propaganda. Unless a VPN gives over all of their information to the government including keys and user information, a VPN cannot operate. However, even now, a good number of users in China are finding ways around these restrictions and using VPNs like TorGuard as we mentioned before.
One reason for the crackdown on July 1st could be related to the 30th anniversary of the transition from Hong Kong’s British to Chinese rule. China has falsely not upheld promises of letting Hong Kong remain independent however, which has resulted in controversial kidnappings and uprisings over rigged Hong Kong elections. Others theorize that the possible cause could be corruption allegation charges against Wang Qishan who is the secretary of the Chinese Communist party.
Whatever the reason for restricting VPN apps, the problem highlights a serious censorship problem. If the Chinese government can restrict apps on the iOS store, it leaves mobile app stores like Apple in a tenuous situation. If they obey requests, it means that any app can be removed for a political agenda, and other countries observing might follow similar paths of censorship and app store restrictions.