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Saturday, October 05, 2013, 06:20 pm PT (09:20 pm ET)

Apple draws criticism after pulling Chinese anti-censorship app

Apple has been criticized by the developer of a Chinese app designed to bypass China's Internet censorship protocols after the company removed the title from the App Store in China because its functionality is illegal in that country.



Open Door was sold in the Chinese App Store until July of this year, when Apple pulled the program, saying that it contained content that was illegal within China. The app saw roughly 2,000 daily downloads in China, according to the Daily Mail, and it is still available in the App Stores of other countries, including the U.S. App Store.

Open Door "protects users' privacy and anonymity online," according to its developers. It was a browser app that circumvented China's "great firewall," and its developers say that any information accessed through the app would be accessed at the user's own discretion.

Subverting China’s state censorship firewall is trivial for users to do via either a proxy server or using a Virtual Private Network. The developer’s Open Door app packaged this bypass functionality in a free app with advertising, and sold In App Purchases to remove the advertising.

The app's developers say that they received no notification from Apple of the app's removal. Upon contacting Apple, they were told that developers must abide by the laws of the countries in which their apps are sold. They say that they will not challenge Open Door's removal, claiming fears that the app could come under scrutiny and face removal in other countries.

"Unfortunately," one developer told CNN, "we're not aware of any app developer ever [who was successful] in challenging Apple's decision. In fact, we won't be surprised if Apple decides to pull our app from all App Stores and/or terminates our account in retaliation."

After the app's removal, Apple came under fire from Chinese social media users, who accused Apple of kowtowing to the demands of China's government.

"The fruit is contaminated," one user wrote on Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo. "Where is your integrity!" wrote another.

Apple has previously pulled apps from the Chinese App Store in order to come into alignment with laws in that country. In April, Apple pulled a book-selling app that gave users access to government-banned titles. That move came shortly after Apple CEO Tim Cook apologized to Chinese customers following a string of government-boosted anti-Apple stories.

Apple executives have continually acknowledged the importance of the Chinese market for the company's future. China surpassed the United States as the world's largest market for mobile devices earlier this year, and Apple's devices enjoy considerable popularity in the world's most populous nation. In order to better court Chinese consumers, many of which have incomes too low to afford Apple's products, the iPhone maker has introduced new pricing and payment strategies in order to make sure its devices get into their hands.