Friday, October 9, 2020

Apple Forces Telegram to Close Channels Run by Belarus Protestors

Scott Chipolina (via Old Unix Geek, Hacker News):

Apple is requesting that Telegram shut down three channels used in Belarus to expose the identities of individuals belonging to the Belarusian authoritarian regime that may be oppressing civilians.


These channels are a tool for Belarus’ citizens protesting the recently rigged presidential election, but, with a centralized entity like Apple calling the shots on its own App Store, there’s little the protesters can do about it.


Update (2020-10-12): Pavel Durov (via Hacker News):

Apple released a statement saying they didn’t want us to take down the 3 channels run by the Belarusian protestors, but just specific posts “disclosing personal information.

This sly wording ignores the fact that channels like @karatelibelarusi and @belarusassholes consist entirely of personal information of violent oppressors and those who helped rig the elections – because that is why those channels exist.

By hiding their demands with vague language, Apple is trying to avoid the responsibility of enforcing their own rules. It is understandable: according to this poll, over 94% of Belarusian users think the channels that made Apple worry should be left alone.

Previously, when removing posts at Apple’s request, Telegram replaced those posts with a notice that cited the exact rule limiting such content for iOS users. However, Apple reached out to us a while ago and said our app is not allowed to show users such notices because they were “irrelevant”.

Alex Stamos:

I had been looking forward to next week’s new batch of iPhones for a while, but thanks to Apple’s increasingly unethical use of DRM to enforce their rules and support of authoritarian regimes, I gotta consider moving the entire family to the Android ecosystem.

Stefan Esser:

In this comment it was said that Apple told Telegram to censor the info that certain posts had to be removed due to Apple. Standard apple monopoly practice. When we released SysSecInfo Apple bullied us into removing features and they forbid us to inform users about it.


Update (2020-10-15): John Gruber (tweet, Hacker News, AppleInsider):

This has nothing to do with relevance and everything to do with convenience. I’ve said it before and will adamantly say it again: it is prima facie wrong that one of the rules of the App Store is that an app is not allowed to explain the rules of the App Store. I’m hard pressed to think of an exception to this conviction, not just on Apple’s App Store, but in any sphere of life — whether a harmless game or the administration of the law.


My own experience with this was that once I included a description of an OS bug I worked around in the changelog of my apps and the reviewers made me remove it with almost exactly the same verbiage–I can’t remember if they actually said “irrelevant” but the summary was “this information is not useful to your users”.

My experience has also been that you’re not allowed to mention OS bugs in release notes, even if they were officially reported via Radar and acknowledged there by Apple. “Irrelevant” basically means “potentially embarrassing to Apple.”

David Heinemeier Hansson:

Apple reaching inside communication apps to tell the maker what users can and cannot posts is 🍌. Apple then asking that their censorship is kept private is 🤯. Apple justifying their prohibition on notices because they’re “irrelevant” is positively 1984.

Phones are the primary computing device for the majority of people today. It’s completely insane that we’ve arrived at a place where two companies can dictate what can be said or installed on those devices.

3 Comments RSS · Twitter

It's a case for both companies to take a stand.
Pretty small market, what are they afraid of?
Apple is worried that Belarus would ban Apple? Even though it has virtually open border with Russia?
Telegram is worried that Apple is going to take them out of App Store, even though it's most likely will be only App Store in Belarus and most people in Belarus already have Telegram installed.
It feels like they are just ready to please next illegitimate dictator way to easily

Old Unix Geek

TLDR: It is convenient for Apple to censor what interferes with its interests.

The notion that Apple can force Telegram not only to censor things, but also to not tell iOS users that content is missing due to Apple's rules is Orwellian. The closest analogue I can think of is 1984's Minitrue. “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

I find this particularly chilling in a world which is already polarised by left and right wing media creating incompatible narratives, leading to mutual incomprehension and loss of trust within the populations of Western countries leading to civil disturbances.

It reminds me of the old Soviet cartoon: A capitalist will sell you the rope with which you will hang him. Our corporations seem so intent on maximising their own interests that they care not for what they do to the democracies that make their existence possible.

[…] also: Michael Tsai’s round up, and Daring Fireball’s Telegram, Apple, Belarus, and Conflating ‘Irrelevance’ With […]

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