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[Update] Apple accused of blocking VPN updates in face of Myanmar unrest

Protonvpn Mockup Placeit
Protonvpn Mockup Placeit (Image credit: PlaceIt)

What you need to know

  • ProtonVPN says that Apple has rejected updates to its iOS app.
  • It comes following a coup and unrest in Myanmar.
  • ProtonVPN says that Apple is actively hampering the defense of human rights in the country.

Update, March 24 (10:00 pm ET): Apple has released a statement in response to ProtonVPN's allegations.

Update, March 24 (7:20am ET): Proton has stated the problematic wording in its app description has been present for "months".

One of the best VPN services available, ProtonVPN, says Apple is blocking updates to its app at a time when the people of Myanmar need it most.

ProtonVPN has stated (opens in new tab) that it has long been a defender of freedom and democracy, and that people in Myanmar "have been fighting to preserve their human rights after the military deposed the democratically-elected government and seized power on Feb. 1."

ProtonMail is one app recommended by the UN for use by Myanmar citizens who want to send the UN sensitive information, and apps like ProtonVPN are vital because national telecom companies have been forced to shut down the internet and social media in the country. Yet ProtonVPN says Apple is now rejecting vital updates to its app:

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.

ProtonVPN says its app and others like it "are a lifeline to the rest of the world for the people of Myanmar who are being massacred" and that Apple is making it even more difficult for citizens of Myanmar "to send evidence of crimes against humanity to the United Nations." ProtonVPN further accused Apple of criticism by saying "Apple has no problem challenging governments when it is in its own financial self-interest (e.g., avoiding EU taxes or evading antitrust charges). However, when Proton does it for human rights reasons, it's suddenly against Apple's policies."

ProtonVPN says that Apple's actions "are actively hampering the defense of human rights in Myanmar", citing Apple's actions in Hong Kong and China as previous precedent.

You can read the full release here. (opens in new tab)

Update, March 24 (07:20am ET) — Proton says app description was in place for months.

Proton has reportedly told MacRumors the problematic wording singled out by Apple was reportedly in place for "months" before it was rejected:

Update: Proton has informed MacRumors that the excerpt in its app description on the ‌App Store‌, which triggered Apple's rejection, has been in place "for months," without any prior issue. Proton says the rejection "came completely out of the blue."

Update, March 24 (10:0 pm ET) — Apple has released a statement in response to ProtonVPN's allegations.

Apple has released a statement to 9to5Mac saying that, while the company approved the latest version of ProtonVPN on March 19, the developer chose to delay its release by two days.

Update 3/24 6:00 pm PT: We've got a statement from Apple on the matter, and it sounds like Proton has made more of this than what it actually was including choosing to delay the approved update by two days.All apps made by Proton, including ProtonVPN, have remained available for download in Myanmar. 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.

We test and review VPN services in the context of legal recreational uses. For example:

1. Accessing a service from another country (subject to the terms and conditions of that service).

2. Protecting your online security and strengthening your online privacy when abroad.

We do not support or condone the illegal or malicious use of VPN services. Consuming pirated content that is paid-for is neither endorsed nor approved by Future Publishing.

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.

Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple.