Apple removes popular VPNs from the App Store on behalf of Russian authorities

Apple App Store
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Russian authorities have apparently struck another blow against digital privacy by removing some of the best VPNs from the Russian version of Apple's App Store. 

For obvious reasons, this is a big deal. Russia is an area with one of the greatest demands for VPN services. They are a vital tool in getting access to information outside of state-sponsored sources, as well as communicating securely with friends and family. 

Which VPNs have been removed?

Worryingly, some leading VPN providers have allegedly been targeted by this move from the Russian authorities. They are:

According to independent Russian outlet Mediazona, these four VPNs have received emails from Apple outlining that at the instruction of the Roskomnadzor (Russia's media regulator), their apps have been removed from the App Store. 

However, we reached out to NordVPN and they responded: "We have not received any communication from Apple as we unlisted our apps from Russian versions of application stores ourselves back in 2023." 

It's interesting to note that NordVPN's website was officially blocked in 2021, but not will full effect. When I spoke to NordVPN, they claimed that the apps were "still available in app stores and, according to our knowledge, sometimes our website was accessible to Russian internet users."

We have contacted Proton VPN and are awaiting comment but can at least confirm that Le VPN has been removed, with the company making a statement on X that they "won't back down!" and that they have launched "Le VPN Give – a secret way to bypass blocks."

So, if they have been taken down, what is the reasoning? Well, as explained in these short emails from Apple to the providers, they contain content that is "Illegal in Russia." The email does reiterate that the apps will remain available in other countries.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the country has been making it harder and harder for citizens to access information from outside the country. Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) are both banned in the country, while recently it has been made illegal to even advertise or promote VPNs. 

Lauren Hendry Parsons, Digital Privacy Advocate at ExpressVPN added. "Any attempt to remove VPN from any market is deeply concerning. VPNs are important safety and privacy tools which everyone should have access to."

What should Russian VPN users do?

The main imperative is to stay safe, but those looking to access to global internet should try one of the best Russia VPNs to find an alternative. VPNs as a whole aren't yet illegal in Russia, even if they are being made harder to use.  Our current number one pick is VyprVPN while PrivateVPN and ExpressVPN also score highly. 

It may also be possible to use one of the best free VPNs to unblock the website of any VPN you choose, and then download and install the application this way. 

A 2023 Statista survey found that 25% of Russians used a VPN at least sometimes, so if you're in the country, don't consider yourself in some tiny minority by using one. it's a perfectly reasonable thing to do – but do so with caution.

Andy Sansom
Staff Writer – VPN

Andy is Tom's Guide Staff Writer for VPNs and privacy. Based in the UK, he originally cut his teeth at Tom's Guide as a Trainee Writer (go and click on his articles!) before moving to cover all things Tech and streaming at T3. He's now back at Tom's Guide to keep you safe online, and bring you the latest news in VPN and cybersecurity.