Apple has responded to incendiary statements by Proton VPN following an update “block,” clarifying that the virtual private network app has remained available, and that the VPN provider is omitting some key details about the incident.
The fracas between Proton and Apple started after the virtual private network provider said in a blog post that Apple took issue with a phrase in its iOS app description. The addition appears to pointing out the call from the United Nations for people in Myanmar to use Proton-based apps during a military coup and internet shutdown.
the United Nations advised people in Myanmar to use secure messaging apps like ProtonMail and Signal to document and share information about “crimes against humanity” in the country. Proton says that, in addition to ProtonMail, the people of Myanmar are also using ProtonVPN to bypass internet crackdowns.
In an email to ProtonVPN, Apple says that the excerpt highlighting the UN statement violates guideline 5.4. It goes on to say that the developer needs to resolve the issue by ensuring the “app is not presented in such a way that it encourages users to bypass geo-restrictions or content limitations.”
But, Apple’s latest quote given to AppleInsider and other venues on Wednesday night sheds a little more light on the timeline of releases.
“All apps made by Proton, including ProtonVPN, have remained available for download in Myanmar,” Apple made clear. “We approved the most recent version of ProtonVPN on March 19.”
“Following this approval, Proton chose to time the release of their update, making it available on March 21st, while subsequently publishing their blog post on March 23rd,” Apple added.
It isn’t clear if the update that Proton is speaking of consists of code or fixes beyond including the statement from the UN.
“Apple has systematically blocked updates that outline that ProtonVPN can be used to overcome internet blocks used by regimes engaging in human rights abuses. We were forced to censor our app description to get approval from Apple to update our app,” Proton said to AppleInsider in a statement on Thursday morning. “We believe that Apple’s policy of rejecting apps which are ‘challenging governments’ is simply wrong. It is telling that Apple’s response does not address this policy at all”
Apple guidelines and VPNs
Guideline 5.4 of Apple’s developer rules lays out regulations for VPN apps. It prohibits apps that “violate local laws.” At present, it isn’t clear specifically what Proton said to induce the rejection.
This isn’t the first time that Apple has cracked down on VPN apps. In 2017, the company pulled VPN apps from the Chinese App Store amid pressure from the government. Although that move proved controversial, Apple executives said that the company was acting in accordance with local laws.
ProtonMail, which makes the ProtonVPN apps, has been a critic of Apple’s App Store policies in the past. The app creators are also part of the Coalition for App Fairness, which rallies developers against certain App Store policies.
Update March 25, 9:05 PM ET Updated with Proton’s statement about Apple’s response.
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