Is Apple blocking its News app in China? Users from overseas confused as VPNs also don’t work

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 October, 2015, 8:15pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 October, 2015, 8:46am

Apple News can no longer be accessed on the Chinese mainland, and using a VPN to jump over the country’s so-called Great Firewall by defaulting to proxy servers is not making any difference, according to media reports and people in the Chinese capital.

Some reports say the reason the VPNs are ineffective is because Apple is behind the ban, rather than the Chinese government. The ban effectively stops overseas users from accessing the app in China if they are connected to a Chinese telecom network.

Beijing-based education consultant Joanie Chen recently picked up a new iPhone 6s and updated its operating system to iOS 9, which comes with the news aggregator pre-installed.

She said the news app worked on the first day, but 24 hours later she was unable to use it to access any news content. Chen created her Apple ID using an American credit card.

“The headlines were still there, but I can no longer refresh the content,” she told the South China Morning Post on Tuesday.

The news app was released on September 16 along with iOS 9. Although the operating system was released universally, the app was only made available to users in the US, UK and Australia.

But people from those countries who travelled to China reported being able to use it last month. The exact date it became blocked remains unclear.

Beijing has been blocking popular Western online social networks like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for years but users in China manage to overcome the censors using VPNs.

However, these have proved useless in the case of Apple News, users say.

The app cannot be used on telecom providers like China Unicom, said several people interviewed by the Post.

Apple News replaces the company’s previous news and magazine app, Newsstand.

Until now, users with a Chinese Apple account have not been able to download it unless, like Chen, they used a foreign credit card.

A Chinese-American blogger who previously worked for China’s state media told the Post he tried accessing the app after connecting to the internet in different ways, including after switching on his VPN, but each time he failed. He was also using China Unicom’s cellular service.

The tech-savvy blogger said he suspected the carrier was the one activating the firewall to block the app. Like all of China’s big three carriers, China Unicom is state-owned.

As such, he tried turning off the service and using Wi-fi on flight mode. That also didn’t work. Neither did switching on Astrill, a popular VPN provider, or another VPN provided by his company.

He found that he could use Facebook and Twitter but not Apple News. Other apps that cannot be used in China for copyright reasons, like Netflix and Hulu, were also accessible via VPN, he added.