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Apple Removes Callkit Apps from Chinese App Store, Cites New Government Regulations

Following Apple’s recent crackdown of apps using Virtual Private Networks, it looks like Callkit Apps are next on the list. Apple has started sending notices to App developers using the Callkit framework and has stated that recent cybersecurity laws in China forbid the use of the system. Apple’s notice gave app developers two options: Either remove Callkit from their applications and be returned to the Chinese App Store, or their apps would be removed from the store altogether.

This is just one of a large number of issues and removals that have been plaguing the Chinese App Store in recent years. The aforementioned Virtual Private Network (VPN) removal saw the disappearance of hundreds of apps from the store due to Apple’s conformity with a request made by the Chinese government.

According to two Beijing lawyers, the targeting of VPN apps was most likely due to exploitable loopholes in the apps that would allow users to break the “Great Firewall” set up by China’s censorship laws. The lawyers have suggested that this move is part of a government push to tighten up on surveillance and censorship among citizens. Many common telephone apps already require additional verification in order to operate in China.

It seems likely, then, that the removal of apps using the Callkit framework was driven by a similar motive. Callkit is a mobile application framework introduced in iOS 10. It is meant to ease integrations between apps and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), which is mostly just a formal name for a voice call. The company behind Callkit describes it as a system that “lets you integrate your calling services with other call-related apps on the system. CallKit provides the calling interface, and you handle the back-end communication with your VoIP service.”

Callkit’s designers seem to suggest that the app focuses on increasing the responsiveness and fluidity of a third-party calling app rather than adding on new functionalities. However, it may be the case that the framework was not as airtight as China wants its mobile phone apps to be, and users were able to use the framework to bypass other regulations.

All these actions seem to be setting up for an ample reaction from Chinese App developers, as frustration and unrest over the many removals continue to grow. Two groups have already attempted to go the legal route, filing complaints against Apple over what they claim to be “discriminatory practices”. On top of that, Apple caught heat from US senators Patrick Leahy and Ted Cruz, who criticized the company’s compliance with China’s strict censorship laws:

“American tech companies have become leading champions of free expression.  But that commitment should not end at our borders. Global leaders in innovation, like Apple, have both an opportunity and a moral obligation to promote free expression and other basic human rights in countries that routinely deny these rights.  Apple is clearly a force for good in China, but I also believe it and other tech companies must continue to push back on Chinese suppression of free expression.”

In response to the senators’ letter, Cynthia Hogan, Apple’s Vice President for Public Policy, cited Apple CEO Tim Cook’s speech addressing the removal of the apps: “We were required by the [Chinese] government to remove some of the VPN apps from the app store that don’t meet these new regulations… we would obviously rather not remove the apps, but like we do in other countries we follow the law wherever we do business.”

Meanwhile, Apple does its best to please everybody, defending its compliance with the requests of the Chinese government and moving forward to open its first Data Center In China, which aims to comply with cyber security laws while also improving internet connections for those in the region.

Featured Image Via Flickr/Blue Coat Photos

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