ProtonVPN is alleging that Apple is blocking updates to its iOS apps just days after a United Nations recommendation said that people in Myanmar should use Proton apps amid a crackdown that has forced telecom companies to shut down the internet and social media platforms in the country.
In a blog post on Tuesday, ProtonVPN said that it has been “a defender of freedom and democracy around the world” and that the citizens of Myanmar “have been fighting to preserve their human rights after the military deposed the democratically-elected government and seized power on Feb. 1.”
Apple of blocking ProtonVPN’s app updates amid Myanmar unrest
The people of Myanmar turned to ProtonVPN to get around internet blocks, get access to accurate news, and report on killings. ProtonVPN says “In the days immediately after the coup, the sign-ups for ProtonVPN in Myanmar spiked to 250 times the previous average daily rate.”
In the blog post, the virtual private network provider explained that Apple had a problem with a phrase in its iOS app description amid recommendations from the UN suggesting people in Myanmar use Proton apps during the military coup and internet shutdown and share information about “crimes against humanity” in the country.
“On the same day the UN recommended Proton apps, Apple suddenly rejected important updates to our ProtonVPN iOS app. These updates include security enhancements designed to further improve safeguards against account takeover attempts which could compromise privacy. Apple says it blocked our security updates because our app is described as a tool to “challenge governments… and bring online freedom to people around the world”. Given the current context, Apple’s actions could not be more insensitive.”
The Cupertino tech giant says that the following app description passage violates its App Store guidelines: “Whether it is challenging governments, educating the public, or training journalists, we have a long history of helping bring online freedom to more people around the world.”
In an email to ProtonVPN, Apple says that the excerpt violates Apple Store rule 5.4 which outlines policies for VPN apps and says that all apps must “not violate local laws.” The email suggests that the developer could resolve the issue by making sure the “app is not presented in such a way that it encourages users to bypass geo-restrictions or content limitations.”
ProtonVPN cited previous incidents where Apple “put profits ahead of human rights.” During the Hong Kong protests in 2020 when ProtonVPN became one of the most downloaded apps in Hong Kong, Apple similarly forced the platform to self-censor. Furthermore, In 2019, it “removed the HKmap.live and Quartz apps, which Hong Kong residents used to stay informed about the protests.” At the time of these incidents, Apple executives said that the tech giant was simply following local laws.
Read the full release here.