Skype has apparently joined the lengthening list of internet communication tools on China's blacklist, with Apple saying it was ordered to clear its download store of apps that violate national laws.
Responding to media reports about the absence of the Microsoft-owned messaging app on the China Apple Store or Android sites, Apple said on Wednesday it had removed several internet phone call apps from its store after the country's government said they violated local laws. Skype Business, a separate app tailored more for corporate use, was still available for download.
"We have been notified by the Ministry of Public Security that a number of voice over internet protocol [VOIP] apps do not comply with local law, therefore these apps have been removed from the App Store in China," an Apple spokeswoman told the news agency Reuters. "These apps remain available in all other markets where they do business," she added.
Skype’s disappearance from the App Store came to light on Tuesday as Apple told two US senators that it had removed 674 VPN apps so far this year, at the request of the Chinese government. Apple said it had "questioned the legal basis of the request" but was told that the affected VPN operators were in violation of Chinese cyber security law.
China has increased scrutiny of internet applications this year, ordering firms to remove hundreds of apps that allow users to communicate confidentially or get around China's so-called "Great Firewall" system of censorship and use overseas social media.
Companies in China hit by online censorship
The new Chinese rules also require tech companies to store user data inside the country as well as imposing new restrictions on what is permissible content. Chinese authorities have ordered all network providers to verify the real names of users with state-issued IDs or passports.
The authorities said such actions were designed to protect personal privacy and prevent online terrorist activity.
The moves have prompted speculation on the Chinese internet that authorities were moving against services with effective encryption, like WhatsApp and Skype, that make them less vulnerable to government monitoring.
Some foreign firms, including Amazon and Apple have this year handed over parts of their business to local affiliates, often citing compliance with the new cybersecurity laws.
China has for years blocked leading foreign websites or services including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a number of news organizations.