ProtonVPN CEO Blasts Apple for ‘Aiding Tyrants’ in Myanmar

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CEO says Apple rejected a security update needed to protect human-rights abuse evidence.

In a blog post filled with a passionate defense of human rights and internet privacy, Andy Yen, the CEO of secure internet provider ProtonVPN, blasted Apple for blocking its latest update and accused the tech juggernaut of helping the global spread of authoritarianism by “giving in to tyrants.”

Yen used the post to explain this is an issue with immediate life-and-death consequences.

In the days following a Feb. 1 military coup that seized control of the Myanmar government, signups for ProtonVPN encrypted internet services exploded by 250 times over the previous average daily rate, Yen said. Encrypted internet access became particularly vital once the military started ordering the country’s telecom companies to block internet access and social-media platforms, he added.

Apple Accused of Blocking Human-Rights Abuse Evidence

Secure channels like ProtonMail were also being used to send evidence of crimes against humanity to the U.N. in response to the body’s March 17 appeal for people to preserve documentary evidence on the ground.

“In the same day the U.N. recommended Proton apps, Apple suddenly rejected important updates to our ProtonVPN iOS app,” Yen wrote. “These updates include security enhancements designed to further improve safeguards against account takeover attempts which could compromise privacy,” Yen said.

Yen posted a letter from Apple explaining the update was rejected because the app’s description says, “Whether it’s challenging governments, educating the public or training journalists, we have a long history of helping bring online freedom to more people around the world.”

The letter added that the explainer would need to be changed so it’s “not presented in such a way that it encourages users to bypass geo-restrictions or content limitations.”

Apple hasn’t responded to Threatpost’s requests for a response to the allegations leveled in the post.

“Today, apps like ProtonVPN are a lifeline to the rest of the world for the people of Myanmar who are being massacred,” Yen wrote. “By preventing us from informing users that ProtonVPN can be used to bypass internet restrictions, Apple is making it harder for people to find this lifeline. Apple’s decision will make it even more difficult for the citizens of Myanmar to send evidence of crimes against humanity to the United Nations.”

Big tech is facing a growing chorus of voices demanding oversight over their unfathomably powerful tools. The proliferation of disinformation campaigns, mass surveillance and explosion of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies like facial recognition — accused of being coded to propagate systemic racism — all prove that the consequences of the unchecked control over the world’s data is a dangerous proposition for human rights all over the world.

But the turmoil in Myanmar is happening now.

In the midst of the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests in the fall of 2019, Apple removed HK Map Live and Quartz Apps from the store, reportedly under pressure from the Chinese government. The apps were being used by protestors to locate police and plan demonstrations.

Apple Accused of Hypocrisy

Yen also accused Apple of being happy to thumb its nose at governments when the company stands to benefit financially.

“Apple’s actions are also hypocritical. Apple has no problem challenging governments when it is in its own financial self-interest (e.g., avoiding E.U. taxes or evading antitrust charges),” Yen added. “However, when Proton does it for human rights reasons, it’s suddenly against Apple’s policies.”

He concluded by throwing his support behind big tech regulation, including the E.U.’s Digital Markets Act.

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