Senators press Apple to explain removal of apps in China

Senators press Apple to explain removal of apps in China
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Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzLawmakers announce legislation to fund government purchases of oil Overnight Energy: Oil giants meet with Trump at White House | Interior extends tenure of controversial land management chief | Oil prices tick up on hopes of Russia-Saudi deal Oil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves MORE (R-Texas) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyDemocratic senators call for funding for local media in coronavirus stimulus Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill Justice IG pours fuel on looming fight over FISA court MORE (D-Vt.) are demanding answers from Apple CEO Tim Cook after his company removed apps in China that allowed users to skirt the country’s internet censors.

In a letter that was released by the senators on Thursday, Cruz and Leahy criticized Apple for going along with China’s internet regulations.

“If these reports are true, we are concerned that Apple may be enabling the Chinese government’s censorship and surveillance of the Internet,” the senators wrote.

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The New York Times reported in July that Apple had removed some of the most popular virtual private network (VPN) apps from its China store. VPNs can be used to bypass Beijing’s filters that block out much of the internet.

Apple told the Times in a statement at the time that China was requiring VPN apps to obtain government licenses.

“We have been required to remove some VPN apps in China that do not meet the new regulations,” Apple said. “These apps remain available in all other markets where they do business.”

The company declined to comment Thurday. In an earnings call in August, Cook said that he's "hopeful" that China will eventually loosen up its restrictions.

"Today there’s still hundreds of VPN apps on the App Store, including hundreds by developers outside China," he said. "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 participating in markets and bringing benefits to customers is in the best interest of the folks there and in other countries as well."

Cruz and Leahy noted in their letter that Cook had received a free speech award earlier this year, and that in his acceptance speech he touted the company’s work protecting free expression.

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“At Apple we are not just enabling others to speak up, we are doing so ourselves," Cook said in his speech.

In a list of detailed questions, the two senators asked whether Apple had tried to fight China’s regulations on free speech and how many apps it has removed from its store.

“The threat that the Great Firewall poses to the freedom of the people of China is similar to the threat that the Berlin Wall imposed on the people of East Berlin for twenty-eight years,” they wrote. “As long as the Great Firewall operates and is enabled by American technology companies, Internet freedom in China will remain at risk."

- This story was updated at 2:04 p.m.