Apple Removes VPN Apps From Russian App Store At Its Media Watchdogs Demands

The deleted apps, ProtonVPN, Red Shield VPN, NordVPN, and Le VPN, were popular tools used by Russians to bypass government-imposed internet censorship

by Mihir Bagwe July 4, 2024

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In a move that tightens Russia’s grip on internet control, Apple has removed several Virtual Private Network (VPN) applications from the App Store in response to a request by Roskomnadzor, the country’s federal media watchdog.

The deleted VPN apps belonging to ProtonVPN, Red Shield VPN, NordVPN, and Le VPN were popular tools used by Russians to bypass government-imposed internet censorship. Red Shield VPN and Le VPN confirmed the removals, sharing messages from Apple stating the apps were deleted per “demand from Roskomnadzor” for containing “content considered illegal in Russia.”

VPNs creates encrypted tunnels for internet traffic, allowing users to access blocked websites and applications anonymously.

Apple offered little explanation, suggesting developers contact Roskomnadzor directly. Red Shield VPN, in turn, advised users to switch their Apple ID country to access the app and updates elsewhere. But the suggestion came not before it used some stern wordings against the Cupertino giant. It said:

“Apple’s actions, motivated by a desire to retain revenue from the Russian market, actively support an authoritarian regime. This is not just reckless but a crime against civil society.
The fact that a corporation with a capitalization larger than Russia’s GDP helps support authoritarianism says a lot about the moral principles of that corporation.” – Red Shield VPN

Red Shield said its services aims to provide free access to information and improving the world. But in the notification, Apple refers to Roskomnadzor’s request to remove the app and claims that its app “solicits, promotes, or encourages criminal or clearly reckless behavior,” which it strongly disagrees with.

A similar notice was sent to LeVPN as seen in the image below:

Apple Notice to LeVPN (Source: LeVPN)

Banning and Removal of VPN Apps Not New

This is just the latest chapter in Russia’s escalating efforts to control online information. The crackdown on VPN Apps and their services predates the Ukraine war but has intensified significantly since. Roskomnadzor executed large-scale blocks targeting VPN protocols like WireGuard, OpenVPN, and IPSec in August and September 2023.

According to Sergei Khutortsev, Director of Roskomnadzor’s Public Communications Network Monitoring and Management Centre, 167 “malicious” VPN services and 84 applications have been blocked in just two years.

This aggressive censorship push extends beyond VPNs. Roskomnadzor is reportedly developing an AI-powered system to maintain a vast register of banned information, further solidifying its control over the Russian online landscape. Additionally, the agency compels telecom operators to block roughly 300,000 unregistered SIM cards weekly.

While Apple’s compliance with Roskomnadzor’s demands raises concerns about corporate responsibility in the face of authoritarian restrictions, it’s a tactic with limited effectiveness. Tech-savvy users will undoubtedly explore alternative methods to access VPN services. The bigger worry lies with Roskomnadzor’s growing arsenal of censorship tools and its potential to stifle free speech and the flow of information within Russia.


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