Apple has begun removing applications that use the CallKit framework from the Chinese version of its App Store after the nation’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology moved to more strictly enforce recent cybersecurity regulations, per a report in 9to5Mac.
According to 9to5Mac, Apple has begun warning developers that they must remove CallKit integration from their apps or they will be removed from the store. There are clear parallels between this and last year, when Apple complied with Chinese censors’ requests to remove VPN apps, the site wrote:
Apple has started sending notices to developers who offer apps in China with CallKit integration. The notice explains that apps cannot offer CallKit functionality in China due to government regulations. In order for developers to make their application available on the China App Store, they must remove that CallKit integration. Alternatively, they can remove the application from China altogether.
Specifically, the Chinese government appears to be concerned that CallKit might allow users to avoid censors and surveillance, which is related to its overall concern over Voice over Internet Protocol communications. According to 9to5Mac, Apple describes CallKit as an easy way to integrate VoIP calls into other apps, which could at least in theory make it harder for authorities to monitor them:
CallKit lets you integrate your calling services with other call-related apps on the system. CallKit provides the calling interface, and you handle the back-end communication with your VoIP service. For incoming and outgoing calls, CallKit displays the same interfaces as the Phone app, giving your app a more native look and feel. And CallKit responds appropriately to system-level behaviors such as Do Not Disturb.
WeChat, a messaging app that has become the de facto communications method throughout much of China, appears to have sensed this coming and removed CallKit a while ago after adding it only “briefly,” the site added. Numerous other apps including VoIP services like Skype have been banned in China over the past year in relation to harsh new cybersecurity laws designed to strengthen its so-called Great Firewall, a system of countermeasures and filters that keep the Chinese internet partially disconnected from the outside world and closely monitored by the state.
The laws have caused significant concerns for foreign businesses, according to the South China Morning Post, including provisions that required “operators of critical information infrastructure” to provide an unspecified level of “technical support” to authorities, as well as store data locally:
Those critical areas include information services, transport and finance. Companies that store or provide internet data overseas without approval can have their business suspended or shut down and their business licence revoked.
Apple has previously agreed to those requirements as well, moving its Chinese iCloud encryption keys to a shared facility with a Chinese company—a move that spurred criticism from privacy advocates concerned that Apple was essentially agreeing to unlock the accounts of anyone in the country upon request from the police.