Archive for July 31, 2017

Monday, July 31, 2017

Apple Pulls VPN Apps From China App Store


We received notification from Apple today, July 29, 2017, at roughly 04:00 GMT, that the ExpressVPN iOS app was removed from the China App Store. Our preliminary research indicates that all major VPN apps for iOS have been removed.


Users in China can continue to stay connected to the open internet with ExpressVPN’s apps for Windows, Mac, Android, and other platforms.

Paul Mozur (Hacker News, MacRumors):

China appears to have received help on Saturday from an unlikely source in its fight against tools that help users evade its Great Firewall of internet censorship: Apple.

Software made by foreign companies to help users skirt the country’s system of internet filters has vanished from Apple’s app store on the mainland.


In response, Apple has made a number of moves to ensure that it stays on Beijing’s good side. Last year, the company complied with what it said was a request from the Chinese authorities to remove from its China app store news apps created by The New York Times.

As I said then, this is a weakness of centralizing distribution in the App Store. If iOS supported sideloading apps, it would be possible for users to download a VPN or NYT app from a third party. You can still get Android VPN apps. But because Apple has inserted itself as the gatekeeper, the platform is vulnerable to restrictions like this.

It’s also interesting to see where Apple draws the line here. It apparently would not give user data to the Chinese government. But it is willing to remove security features that prevent the government from itself collecting data.

See also: Tim Culpan (via John Gruber).

Update (2017-07-31): Another angle to this story is that it is technically possible to use a VPN on iOS without an app. But apps make both setup and billing much easier, and presumably they offer other advantages as well.

John Gruber (tweet):

The thing I keep thinking about is that iMessage and FaceTime are among the few protocols available inside China with end-to-end encryption. The Chinese just started blocking WhatsApp a few weeks ago. I don’t know why they allow iMessage and FaceTime to continue working, but they do, and both of those protocols are designed from the ground up to only work using end-to-end encryption. There is no “off switch” for iMessage encryption that Apple can flip inside China.

In theory, though, China could ask Apple to distribute extra encryption keys, via the data center run by the government-owned company.

To me, the more interesting question isn’t whether Apple should be selling its products in China, but rather whether Apple should continue to make the App Store the only way to install apps on iOS devices. […] The App Store was envisioned as a means for Apple to maintain strict control over the software running on iOS devices. But in a totalitarian state like China (or perhaps Russia, next), it becomes a source of control for the totalitarian regime.

Update (2017-08-02): Tim Cook:

Today, there’s still hundreds of VPN apps on the App Store, including hundreds by developers that are outside of China, so there continues to be VPN apps available. We would obviously rather not remove the apps, but like we do in other countries, we follow the law wherever we do business. 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. We believe in engaging with governments, even when we disagree. In this particular case, back to commenting on this one, we hope that over time, the restrictions we’re seeing will be loosened, because innovation requires freedom to collaborate and communicate, and I know that is a major focus there. That’s sort of what we’re seeing from that point of view. 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, and like we would if the US changed the law here, we would have to abide by it in both cases. That doesn’t mean we don’t state our point of view, in the appropriate way — we always do that.

I’m not quite sure what he’s trying to say in the first sentence. Is he just reassuring people that the Chinese law doesn’t affect App Stores in other countries?

Nick Heer:

But where is Apple’s line? If China were to require all messaging services to be unencrypted, or prevent cloud data services from being encrypted, or implement an even stricter version of their already-aggressive cyber “sovereignty” law — would any of these situations encourage Apple begin to fight back?

Brian Hall:

At minimum, Tim Cook personally state his opposition to this on Twitter, as he has so many political issues in the US.

Apple will publicly speak out (on Twitter) on US policies it disagrees with. And threaten to move money out of ‘bad’ US locales.

Bob Burrough:

Don’t forget that Apple’s products are assembled in China. Getting in a fight with Beijing would be a huge unforced error.

My only concern is he’s trying to take credit for a moral stance when there simply is no moral stance.

Reddit Raises $200M, Rewrites Code

Kurt Wagner (via Hacker News):

Reddit has raised $200 million in new venture funding and is now valued at $1.8 billion, according to CEO Steve Huffman.


Huffman’s plan for the new funding includes a redesign of — the company is literally re-writing all of its code, some of which is more than a decade old. An early version of the new design, which we saw during our interview, looks similar to Facebook’s News Feed or Twitter’s Timeline: A never-ending feed of content broken up into “cards” with more visuals to lure people into the conversations hidden underneath.


Reddit is also beefing up its video efforts, and recently launched a beta feature that lets users upload videos directly to the site for the first time.

Supporting video could potentially be very interesting. Making the design more like Facebook would probably make it less appealing to me, though.


We’re making some changes to our Privacy Policy. Specifically, we’re phasing out Do Not Track, which isn’t supported by all browsers, doesn’t work on mobile, and is implemented by few—if any—advertisers, and replacing it with our own privacy controls.

See also: David Heinemeier Hansson.

Why Apple Should Make a Cheaper, Streamlined Apple TV

Dan Moren:

Meanwhile, even some of the major improvements promised by Apple during last year’s September event have yet to come to fruition: single sign-on, for example, continues to lack support from the major cable companies.

As the fourth-generation Apple TV approaches the two-year mark, perhaps it’s time for Apple to take another look at its set-top box.


But that assumption that apps would be a big thing on Apple TV also led Apple to make some other miscalculations. For example, the company continues to offer the Apple TV in two models: a 32GB model for $149 and a 64GB model for $199.


So, where to go from here? I’m skeptical we’ll see any major changes to the Apple TV line this fall, but what I’m hoping for is this: a return to a lower cost Apple TV, somewhere in the $70-$99 range, with a modicum of storage, and perhaps a traditional remote with buttons.

I wonder what Apple thinks the purpose of Apple TV is. The 4th incarnation raised the bar, but not enough to really compete in gaming. It seems like a cheaper version would be better for both their content and iOS businesses. Don’t they want playing their content to be as easy as possible? Don’t they want AirPlay-equipped TVs to be ubiquitous, making every iOS device (and Mac) more useful?

If Amazon can sell a Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote for $40, why can’t Apple sell an Apple TV for $50 instead of $150?

Given that I don’t see any compelling tvOS apps, and have been having problems with my Apple TV 3, I’m tempted to simply exit Apple’s video ecosystem. The main draw at this point, aside from the content I’ve already purchased, is probably the built-in Flickr app.

Previously: The Businesses Apple Has Left Behind, What Happened With the Apple TV 4, Amazon Fire TV Stick 2.

Update (2017-07-31): Michael Rockwell:

I think Apple will offer a lower priced Apple TV soon. There’s already historical precedent for reducing the price of the previous model when a new model is introduced — the third-generation Apple TV was available for $69 for a period of time after the current Apple TV was released. I think they’ll do the same when a more powerful, 4K-capable Apple TV goes on sale this fall.

Oluseyi Sonaiya:

Android TV is under development, but I’m not a believer in the streaming [puck] model. I find Chromecast provides a vastly better UX.

I think I would like that better, too.