Russia Accused of Forcing Apple to Remove VPNs from App Store

Reports indicate that at least 25 VPN apps have been removed from the App Store in Russia, including NordVPN and PIA.

VPN services are being removed from the App Store in Russia, with at least 25 apps reported to have been taken down.

Popular VPN services Red Shield VPN and Le VPN both confirmed on Thursday, July 4th that they had been removed from Apple’s library of apps on the basis that they “solicit, promote or encourage criminal or clearly reckless behaviour”.

The demand to Apple was made by Russia’s Roskomnadzor (short for Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media) in a continuation of the state’s antipathy for its people’s online privacy.

25 VPN Apps Blocked

The original report from stated that Roskomnadzor made the request of Apple to block 25 VPN apps, including some of the industry’s biggest names like NordVPN, Proton VPN, Planet VPN, Hidemy.Name VPN and Private Internet Access.

Providers Red Shield VPN and Le VPN subsequently confirmed that their apps were included in the sweeping removal.

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Both posted screenshots of the notice they had received from Apple, informing them that their apps would be removed “because it includes content that is illegal in Russia, which is not in compliance with the App Review Guidelines.”

In a subsequent blog post, Le VPN stated that it had not been given the requisite 24 hours to address the concerns of the notice. And, even if it had been, that the time limit would have been insufficient to carry out, submit and have approved the necessary changes to its iOS app.

Demands for Apple to Unblock Apps

Following Apple’s actions, Le VPN has joined with other blocked providers to start a petition aimed at the tech giant to challenge the removal of their apps.

With over 1,250 signatories at the time of writing, the petition calls the Roskomnadzor a “Russian censorship agency” and accuses Apple of “help[ing] Putin and his regime deny access to free information to hundreds of thousands of people in Russia”.

It continues: “We consider Apple’s actions, driven by fear of losing the Russian market, to be immoral and even criminal.” Before urging US Congress to address the parties’ concerns.

Kremlin Curbing VPN Use

With VPN usage in Russia skyrocketing since the start of its conflict with Ukraine in early 2022, Moscow has attempted to tighten its already heavy-handed control on the use of the internet.

Having already banned Twitter and Facebook, it then passed a law last July that any service that provided information on how to bypass blocked sites would be added to the Roskomnadzor’s ‘Unified Register of Prohibited Information’.

That includes the use of privacy software like virtual private networks and, on March 1st this year, a full ban on VPN services in Russia advertising their unblocking software was put into effect.

“In accordance with the law, any tools that allow bypassing blocked or illegal content have been banned in Russia starting February 2020. VPN services fall under such tools if access to illegal resources is not limited when they are applied.” – Roskomnadzor

VPNs Historically Blocked in Russia

This is not the first time that VPN services have found themselves unable to operate in Russia, even before the ongoing conflict with Ukraine.

We began reporting on threats to block VPNs that didn’t support Kremlin censorship over five years ago, with bans applied to the likes of ExpressVPN,  NordVPN, TorGuard, NordVPN and IPVanish in June 2019. The clamp downs continued through to the start of the 2020s.

While the use of VPNs remains legal in Russia, all providers need to have government approval. And the use of VPNs to access websites and online content that are blacklisted by the Kremlin is illegal.

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Written by:
Now a freelance writer, Adam is a journalist with over 10 years experience – getting his start at UK consumer publication Which?, before working across titles such as TechRadar, Tom's Guide and What Hi-Fi with Future Plc. From VPNs and antivirus software to cricket and film, investigations and research to reviews and how-to guides; Adam brings a vast array of experience and interests to his writing.
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