Apple pulls ad tracking blocker from China App Store under false pretense

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Apple has killed ad tracker-blocking app 1Blocker in the China App Store saying that it is an unlicensed VPN — but it does not offer VPN services.

Early on Tuesday, 1Blocker revealed via Twitter that Apple had pulled the app from the App Store in China on Monday. The app's removal was for both the iOS and macOS versions of the app, from both storefronts.

An email sent from Apple and published by the app explains that the take-down was due to the app including "content that is illegal in China." Apple goes on to state "As you may know, the government has been tightening regulations associated with VPN applications and since 2015 has required developers to have a license from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology."

As the app's developers haven't "provided a valid license," it has been removed until a valid license has been provided to Apple, the email adds. The takedown only affects the China App Store, and not other countries.

The problem is that 1Blocker isn't a VPN app. It blocks ad trackers in Safari.

"We have no VPN servers. In fact, we don't route data traffic through any servers at all," insists the developers. "Everything's done locally inside our network extension."

Advising an appeal against the decision will be placed, 1Blocker adds that the takedown took place with little warning. "Usually Apple gives a notice before removing an app from the store. In our case, they just went straight ahead and removed it," the firm states.

China has a track record in attempting to control the App Store, including forcing Apple to purge VPN apps from the regional App Store in 2017. In December 2020, 46,000 apps were taken down in one day for failing to abide by China's licensing requirements, which affects multiple app categories.

Licenses are hard to get in China, in part due to needing to be acquired by a China-based company, not one from outside the country. Regulators have also been picky about the issuing of licenses, repeatedly suspending the issuance of new game license approvals over the years.