Apple’s new feature, designed to give users more privacy when surfing the web, will not be available in China, one of the iPhone maker’s most important markets, due to the regime’s claims that it intends to continue imposing its strict controls on its citizens’ internet usage.

Apple recently announced the launch of its new iCloud+ services at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). The feature, called “Private Relay,” allows users to hide their browsing activity and identity similar to a virtual private network, but this new feature will not be offered in China due to laws under the communist dictatorship, CNBC reported.

With the new private relay feature, when users browse the Internet using Apple’s Safari browser, their data is sent through two separate servers to mask the user’s identity and browsing sites. As reported by the company, this means that even Apple or the user’s ISP will not be able to access their browsing data.

This works similar to a Virtual Private Network, better known as a VPN, where users can route their Internet traffic through a server located somewhere else in the world to mask their identity and browsing activity.

China’s renowned “Great Firewall” allows authorities to block access to websites within China, including Google and Facebook, but many Chinese users use VPNs to circumvent these restrictions. 

In China, it remains illegal to use VPNs not authorized by the regime to access blocked websites, and while Apple’s private relay is not a VPN, it works in a similar way. 

An Apple spokesperson confirmed the news to CNBC that Private Relay will not be available in China or other countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Belarus and Uganda. Apple stated that the feature cannot be offered in these countries due to local laws.

In 2017, Apple and Amazon had already removed several VPN services from their virtual app store in China in order to comply with local regulations despite constituting a violation of the rights and freedoms of Chinese citizens.

The VPNs removed at the time were the only way for millions of Chinese citizens to have access to information and contact with what was happening outside the communist country. 

The recently announced move is the latest concession Apple has made to offer its services in China, a market that according to Reuters accounts for nearly 15 percent of its total revenue.

Apple has also recently been at the center of criticism after being accused of producing its products with raw materials from forced labor camps in the Xinjiang area, where millions of Uighur Muslims are persecuted, imprisoned and exploited.

A report released last year revealed that some 82 global brands, including Apple, are allegedly profiting from the enslavement of the Muslim minority.

In September 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Uyghur forced labor bill. Among other things, the bill provides that goods manufactured or produced in Xinjiang cannot enter the American Union unless they are not linked to convict labor, forced or contract labor under criminal penalties.

At that point Apple began pulling strings by hiring lobbyists to soften the bill, The Washington Post revealed thanks to testimony from two congressional staffers familiar with the matter.

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