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Apple CEO Tim Cook defends pulling privacy apps from China

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor
Apple CEO Tim Cook. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

Apple (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook on Tuesday defended his company’s decision to pull privacy apps from the Chinese App Store, saying the iPhone maker is simply abiding by the law of the country, just as it would in the U.S.

Cook’s comments, which came during Apple’s Q3 2017 earnings call, follow the company’s removal of virtual private network, or VPN, apps from the App Store over the weekend, drawing criticism from privacy advocates and app makers alike.

“We would obviously rather not remove the apps,” Cook said during the call, adding that Apple is simply following Chinese law.

VPNs allow users to circumvent China’s “Great Firewall,” which it uses to monitor and block its internet users’ access to sites the government deems subversive to its thinking.

The impetus for the removal of the VPN apps, Cook explained, was the government’s renewed effort to enforce regulations that banned VPNs that haven’t been licensed by the Chinese government.

Despite his stated displeasure with having to remove the apps from the App Store, Cook said that Apple believes in “engaging with governments even with which we disagree.”

What’s more, the CEO said that he’s hopeful that such restrictions will be loosened over time since, as he put it, “innovation really requires freedom to collaborate and communicate.”

Cook then tried to make a distinction between the decision to remove the VPN apps in China and Apple’s legal showdown with the FBI, during which the tech giant refused to provide the agency with the ability to crack the encryption of an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.

“In the case of the U.S., the law in the U.S. supported us, it was very clear,” he said. “In the case of China the law is also very clear there.”

That said, Cook explained that the company isn’t afraid of telling governments it disagrees with how it feels. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t state our point of view in the appropriate way,” he said. “We always do that.”

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Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.