Apple cracks down on VoIP apps in China

apple voip

In what is likely another sign of the Chinese government’s determination to remove avenues for VoIP calling within the country’s borders, Apple has started removing VoIP apps that were available for download in the People’s Republic.

In doing so, the tech giant has been acting on a regulation recently implemented by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

The popular Apple news site 9to5Mac reports receiving a message about the crackdown. Apple has notified particular developers of the need to remove CallKit integration from their apps in the Chinese version of the iOS App Store, which provides software for iPhones and Pads.

CallKit functionality is increasingly removed in China

CallKit is a software framework which Apple introduced in 2016 with iOS 10, a major release of its iOS mobile operating system. CallKit lets developers integrate their calling services with other call-related iOS apps and let incoming and outgoing calls use the stock Phone app’s calling interface.

However, 9to5Mac speculates that it is CallKit’s VoIP functionalities with which the Chinese government has probably taken issue. The administration takes a dim view of such services, which are also provided by Skype, an app removed from China’s app stores last November.

On that occasion, a Microsoft spokesperson told The New York Times that the app’s absence from the iOS App Store was only temporary. The Redmond corporation added that it was “working to reinstate the app as soon as possible”, but the Chinese government has further tightened its grip on the regulation of online communication services since then.

How China has placed various fetters on online communication

The apps that have been affected by Apple’s latest crackdown include the popular WeChat, which featured CallKit integration only briefly before it was removed. However, it has been only one round in a raft of similar moves sparked by China’s authoritarian government.

In autumn 2017, the Facebook-owned WhatsApp was hampered by blockages. Other communication services that have been nullified by administrative filters include Facebook itself, as well as Twitter, Snapchat, Gmail and Telegram. Furthermore, according to a 2017 study, Apple has recently quickened the pace at which it has been removing violating apps in China.

While the People’s Republic has long had the world’s most advanced and far-reaching Internet controls, the regime of current President Xi Jinping has now caught most of the main foreign-originated social networks and messaging apps in its restrictive net.

Apparently driving this trend has been the tendency of such services to encrypt messages to such an extent that the Chinese government faces more difficulty in monitoring them. Government rules – forming what has been dubbed “the Great Firewall” – stipulate that each messaging account uses real-name identification, a requirement where such software often falls short.

While Apple’s latest action has amounted to effectively a blanket ban on CallKit in China, this framework remains available for use in other countries and with various numbers. These include 0300 numbers available for use by select bodies, including government departments and public service providers, in the UK.