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Update 2021-03-17: We’ve been asked a few times what our plans are for existing iOS customers. Because Librem Tunnel uses the standard, open, OpenVPN protocol, we have been working with customers to apply their OpenVPN configuration to a different iOS OpenVPN client. It’s less convenient than Librem Tunnel of course, but works. We are also updating our documentation to reflect these new steps.

When we launched Librem One almost two years ago, the goal was to provide a convenient and privacy-respecting suite of services running on open platforms as an alternative to Big Tech platforms. The service launched with Librem Chat, Librem Social, Librem Mail, and Librem Tunnel. We feel everyone deserves privacy and we are not a fan of vendor lock-in, so when we launched, we provided free software Librem One applications for Android and iOS so customers on those platforms could join the party. Recently we’ve been forced to remove Librem Tunnel from iOS due to their unfair policies and in this post we’ll explain why.

Anti-Trust and the App Store

If you have been following the anti-trust hearings the United States Congress has held for Big Tech companies over the past year or two, you will be familiar with some of the anti-trust concerns Congress has over Apple and its App Store. Apple’s anti-trust concerns centered on two main points:

  1. Their use of the App Store to disadvantage competitors (such as when they removed competing parental control apps in the name of privacy coincidentally when launching their own).
  2. The fees they charge companies who create apps that make money in the App Store (such as the ongoing legal battle between Apple and Epic over whether Epic owes Apple 30% of its revenue from games like Fortnite).

Apple’s policy is that applications that make in-app purchases or offer subscriptions using Apple’s payment platform pay Apple 30% of their revenue. The justification behind that fee is that companies are benefiting from all of the work Apple has put into its payments platform and so the fee helps them maintain that payments infrastructure while saving app developers from having to implement their own payment or subscription infrastructure.

This policy may seem straightforward and even reasonable at first, but gets complicated when you start talking about apps that have their own payments infrastructure. In Epic’s case, they are using their own infrastructure, not Apple’s, for sign-ups and payments. Apple is saying that regardless of what payment infrastructure they use, Epic’s apps are on the App Store and must pay Apple 30% of any revenue from them. Because Apple doesn’t allow alternative App Stores on iOS, Epic and other iOS developers have no alternative but to use the App Store if they want their iOS users to be able to run their applications.

Tunnel Vision

Where does Librem One fit into all of this? In addition to the free Librem Social and Librem Chat services in Librem One, we also offer paid subscriptions which give you access to Librem Mail and Librem Tunnel. Recently our VPN endpoints have changed, which required us to update the Librem Tunnel application.

Unfortunately our attempts to push an update were blocked, because Apple saw that the application was a VPN, which flagged it to check whether it was a subscription service (which VPNs frequently are). Even though Librem Tunnel is just part of the overall Librem One offering, because it’s part of a subscription service, Apple is requiring us to add the ability to sign up and pay for Librem One subscriptions within the Librem Tunnel app before they will allow updated versions into the App Store.

Why are they making that requirement even though we already have our own independent payment infrastructure? Because once that app allows in-app purchases, Apple can then automatically take their 30% cut.

We do not accept these kinds of monopolistic practices, nor do we want to fund them through our own customers. Since Apple does not allow alternatives to the App Store on their platform, we have no choice but to remove Librem Tunnel from iOS, until such time Apple changes their policies either on their own, or through government intervention. Because our other apps on iOS are linked to our free services, we don’t believe Apple will make the same demands of them.

We are really sorry for those Librem Tunnel users who are on iOS, and we hope one day we will be able to add Librem Tunnel back to the App Store.

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