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VPN App Developer Claims Apple Blocked Updates to App Store in Myanmar, Apple Responds

VPN App Developer Claims Apple Blocked Updates to App Store in Myanmar, Apple Responds

Earlier this week, VPN provider Proton alleged that Apple rejected a security update to its ProtonVPN mobile app due to the ongoing political upheaval in Myanmar. Apple has responded, offering up a timeline of the events around the app update.

In a March 23 blog post, Proton founder Andy yen said that Apple had rejected “important updates” for its VPN app related to security. The post said the rejection was on the same day that the UN recommended people in Myanmar use the Signal encrypted messaging app and ProtonMail, an encrypted email app also developed by Proton.

To safely convey such sensitive information to UN investigators and ensure whistleblowers are not attacked or killed, the UN recommended people use ProtonMail or Signal to report evidence of wrongdoing.

ProtonMail is not the only Proton app being used by activists and protesters in Myanmar. The people of Myanmar have also turned to ProtonVPN to get around these internet blocks, seek accurate news to stay safe, and report on the killings.

In the days immediately after the coup, the sign-ups for ProtonVPN in Myanmar spiked to 250 times the previous average daily rate.

Apple is said to have rejected the update due to an excerpt from the app’s description which encouraged users to “bypass geo-restrictions or content limitations.”

Proton said earlier this week that the rejection “came completely of the blue” on March 17, given that the app had always had the same description, without any issue or rejection from Apple.

Now, Apple has responded to Proton’s accusations, providing a specific timeline of events. (Via MacRumors)

Apple told the publication that all Proton apps are available and have remained available for download in Myanmar. Apple also said that it had approved the latest ProtonVPN App Store on March 19 and says, correctly, that Proton published the update to users two days later, on March 21. Two days later, Proton published its blog post connecting the rejection to Apple limiting free speech and human rights in Myanmar.

Apple’s full statement to MacRumors:

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 21, while subsequently publishing their blog post on March 23.

Proton founder Andy Yen told The Verge that due to the emergency in Myanmar, the developer removed the mention about challenging governments which Apple had found objectionable, and the app was “finally” approved.

The only remaining sticking point related to Apple is why did the Cupertino firm first rejected the update? If it was due to the App Store description text, why did Apple suddenly get up in arms about the description, despite Proton’s claims that Apple had approved the same text in previous updates?

Over the last year or so, Apple has faced watchdog investigations, antitrust lawsuits, and accusations that the company is abusing its position as the caretaker of the App Store, challenging the companies App Store policies.