The Curious Case of Le VPN’s Disappearance from the Russian App Store

The Curious Case of Le VPN’s Disappearance from the Russian App Store

For nearly 15 years, Le VPN has navigated the treacherous waters of online privacy, often finding itself at odds with powerful entities seeking to disrupt its operations.

One such adversary emerged in 2018: Roskomnadzor (RKN), Russia’s communications regulator, who took issue with Le VPN’s role in keeping Telegram accessible in Russia.

Since then, it’s been a cat-and-mouse game. RKN has made multiple attempts to disrupt Le VPN’s encrypted, censorless tunnels, but each time, Le VPN emerged victorious.

That is, until July 4, 2024, when an unexpected player entered the fray: Apple.

In a move that sent shockwaves through the VPN community, Apple unilaterally removed Le VPN’s app from the Russian App Store.

The decision was based on a peculiar notice from RKN, one that raised more questions than it answered.

Let’s break down the oddities

  1. The notice didn’t mention the app or the App Store directly. Instead, it focused on a URL on Apple’s website describing the app.
  2. While the notice gave a 24-hour compliance window, the app vanished a day before Le VPN even saw the notice.
  3. Compliance was practically impossible. Changing an app’s description isn’t a simple flip of a switch – it requires submitting a new version, a process that takes days, not hours.

The whole situation seemed absurd, even repressive.

But at Le VPN, we prefer to follow Hanlon’s razor: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

So, what do we think happened? Let’s rewind a bit.

On March 13, we received a similar notice from RKN about a different URL on our website.

After some digging, we uncovered an intriguing possibility: RKN had unleashed a bot, crawling the Russian internet for information on bypassing censorship.

This digital bloodhound would automatically generate notices and send them to the relevant hosting providers.

We tested this theory by blocking RKN’s subnetworks from accessing our website.

Lo and behold, a few days later, we received notice that our URL had been removed from their “list.”

It seemed our hypothesis about the automated system was correct.

Fast forward to June 2024.

We believe RKN’s bot either expanded its reach to include apps.apple.com URLs or encountered a glitch that sent it into overdrive.

On June 24, Apple likely received the bot-generated notice demanding the removal of our app’s URL from their store.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, Apple chose the path of least resistance: removing the entire app from the Russian App Store.

It was a quick fix to a complex problem, executed on July 4, leaving us to deal with the fallout.

But here’s where the plot thickens.

Remember what happens when RKN’s bot can’t find the information it flagged?

It removes the URL from its blacklist.

And guess what? Our URL is no longer on that list.

You can verify this yourself at

http://eais.rkn.gov.ru/

So now, in a twist of irony, Apple supposedly continues to keep our app unavailable in Russia purely on their own initiative.

The very notice that prompted the removal may no longer be valid.

This puts Apple in a precarious position.

They must either urgently create a robust procedure for handling these requests or take the drastic step of blocking all VPN apps from their Russian store.

We suspect other VPN apps will face a similar fate.

Since July 5, we’ve heard nothing but silence from Apple.

The ball is in their court, and we at Le VPN are hopeful they’ll make the right decision.

In the meantime, we find ourselves in a digital no-man’s-land, caught between automated bots, tech giants, and regulators.

It’s a stark reminder of the complex challenges facing privacy advocates in our increasingly connected world.

Stay tuned as this digital drama unfolds. The story of Le VPN’s Russian App Store saga is far from over.

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