Popular VPNs have just disappeared from the Apple App Store in Russia

Russian flag on a laptop
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At least four of the best VPN services have reportedly disappeared from the Apple App Store in Russia as of Thursday, July 4, 2024. 

The news comes as two of the providers affected (Red Shield VPN and Le VPN) have shared the communication they received from Apple to notify the removal "per demand from Roskomnadzor," the Russian censor body, for including "content that is illegal in Russia." NordVPN and Proton VPN also appear to have been removed. 

Despite civil societies repeatedly calling on big tech to stop helping Russia censor free speech, Apple has clearly bent on the Kremlin's censorship orders at last. VPN services have increasingly come under attack lately across the country, with a new law enforced in March now criminalizing the spread of information about ways to circumvent internet restrictions. 

The role of Big Tech 

"Apple must stop aiding Kremlin in suffocating the country's civic space," digital rights advocacy group Access Now wrote in a tweet (see below).

This is because, as experts explain, Russia VPNs are vital for citizens to keep exercising their right to express themselves online freely and access information. 

The internet in Russia is highly restricted and controlled by Roskomnadzor authorities and state companies. Meta, for instance, is considered an extremist organization, and all its highly popular social media platforms are blocked in the country. These add up to an ever-growing list of URLs, domain names, and IP addresses deemed illegal.  

A VPN, short for virtual private network, is security software that both encrypts internet connections and spoofs users' IP addresses to grant them access to geo-restricted content. The latter skill is exactly why people in Russia are forced to use VPN apps to bypass online restrictions—and that's something the Kremlin wants to prevent.

Over the years, Russian authorities have temporarily blocked popular VPN providers with, at times, the help of US-based big tech giants. In 2022, for example, Google was forced to delist over 36 thousand URLs that linked to VPN services—Surfshark reported at the time. More recently, Google-owned YouTube has been accused of helping the Kremlin censor free speech.

Commenting on the YouTube case, Russian cyber lawyer Sarkis Darbinyan told me back in May: "Companies can no longer say it's none of their business, that they are following the laws of the country and trying to be law-abiding.

"We dare to remind Big Tech that international soft law recommends that private companies should avoid contributing to adverse human rights impacts as part of their operations."

Google Play Store hasn't reported being affected at the time of writing, but we cannot say this won't change. 

When asked about the incident, NordVPN shared this statement via email: "We have not received any communication from Apple as we have unlisted our apps from Russian versions of application stores ourselves back in 2023 due to moral and legal reasons."

I've also reached out to Proton VPN for comments, but I'm still waiting for a reply at the time of publication.


We test and review VPN services in the context of legal recreational uses. For example: 1. Accessing a service from another country (subject to the terms and conditions of that service). 2. Protecting your online security and strengthening your online privacy when abroad. We do not support or condone the illegal or malicious use of VPN services. Consuming pirated content that is paid-for is neither endorsed nor approved by Future Publishing.

Chiara Castro
Senior Staff Writer

Chiara is a multimedia journalist committed to covering stories to help promote the rights and denounce the abuses of the digital side of life—wherever cybersecurity, markets and politics tangle up. She mainly writes news, interviews and analysis on data privacy, online censorship, digital rights, cybercrime, and security software, with a special focus on VPNs, for TechRadar Pro, TechRadar and Tom’s Guide. Got a story, tip-off or something tech-interesting to say? Reach out to chiara.castro@futurenet.com