RESTART: Handsets bearing the Nokia badge will reappear now Microsoft has sold the division that makes the Nokia Lumia 820. Picture: REUTERS
RESTART: Handsets bearing the Nokia badge will reappear now Microsoft has sold the division that makes the Nokia Lumia 820. Picture: REUTERS

Beijing — Skype, Microsoft’s internet phone call and messaging service, has disappeared from app stores in China including that of Apple, indicating the latest setback for a foreign tech service in the country.

Apple, responding to questions about Skype’s absence, late on Tuesday said it had removed several internet phone call apps from its App Store in China after the country’s government said they violated local laws.

"We have been notified by the ministry of public security that a number of voice over internet protocol apps do not comply with local law, therefore these apps have been removed from the App Store in China," an Apple spokesperson said. "These apps remain available in all other markets where they do business."

The Cyberspace Administration of China, which oversees censored technology, did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

According to Reuters checks on Wednesday morning, Skype was not available in app stores in China overseen by Apple, Tencent and Qihoo 360. Alphabet’s Google Play app store is not available in China.

Microsoft, Tencent and Qihoo 360 did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

China has increased scrutiny of internet applications this year, ordering firms to remove hundreds of apps that allow users to communicate confidentially or get around China’s so-called great firewall system of censorship and use overseas social media.

Cyber authorities have also periodically interrupted services, such as Facebook’s encrypted messenger app Whatsapp over the last two months.

The authorities said such actions are designed to protect personal privacy and prevent online terrorist activity. Foreign tech lobbies and businesses operating in China have said internet rules are too strict and could hit their local operations.

The actions are linked to real name authentication laws brought in earlier this year, requiring all network providers to verify the real names of users with state-issued IDs or passports.

Separate data regulations also require companies to store user information within China, and make it accessible to authorities for surveillance purposes.

Some foreign firms, including Amazon and Apple have handed of parts of their business to local affiliates in 2017, often citing compliance with the new cyber security laws.

Unlike similar services that are blocked, including Facebook, Google and Twitter, Skype’s services are still available for those who already have the app installed.

On Tuesday evening, Chinese netizens took to Weibo to discuss Skype’s disappearance, which many criticised for being overly restrictive, despite the existence of local alternatives.

Reuters

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