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Spurred by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, Apple has started to pull apps from the Chinese App Store that integrate CallKit — a telephone interface introduced by Apple in iOS 10. Developers have been told that the Ministry “requested that CallKit functionality be deactivated in all apps available on the China App Store” and that Apple will reinstate the apps once they remove CallKit or disable it from working in China.
First reported this weekend by 9to5Mac, the forced removal of CallKit functionality from apps in China doesn’t make much sense on the surface, as the feature merely provides an Apple-designed UI for third-party apps — similar to the one found in the decade-old Phone app. As described by Apple, “CallKit provides the calling interface, and you handle the back-end communication with your VoIP service.” The feature has been available to app developers for nearly two years, making its sudden objectionability even more unusual.
The ban apparently comes down to a recent Chinese government concern over the feature — a “newly enforced” regulation and a continuation of China’s campaign against VPNs and other tools that might circumvent the country’s restrictions and monitoring of communications. Apple and Google notably pulled Skype from their Chinese app stores late last year amidst government “public security” concerns over VoIP apps. Now, to the extent that VoIP calls on the iPhone might otherwise appear to be just like normal phone calls, the government may want to have them visually differentiated or their functionally limited.
China has recently stepped up requests to have Apple and other companies restrict access to communications apps, while U.S. legislators, journalists, and civil rights groups have opposed the requests, telling the company that it should at least fight the restrictions before capitulating. For its part, Apple has simply said that it complies with the laws of the countries where it operates, indicating a willingness to continue offering whatever apps and features it can within restrictive territories, regardless of the compromises that entails.
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