Thursday, March 18, 2021 [Tweets] [Favorites]

iOS to Offer Pre-Installed Apps in Russia

RadioFreeEurope:

Russian media are reporting that Apple has agreed to sell its gadgets in Russia with preinstalled Russian-made software to comply with a law that comes into force on April 1.

[…]

The list of Russian government-approved programs for mandatory preinstallation on smartphones and tablets includes the search engine Yandex, Mail.ru mail and news, ICQ messenger, social network VKontakte, payment system MirPay, and antivirus Kaspersky Lab, among others.

Via Nick Heer:

I overestimated Apple’s willingness to withdraw from what is an increasingly authoritarian market. It does seem like Apple was able to strike something of a compromise — on Android phones and other devices, the apps will apparently be preinstalled without any configuration on the user’s part. Still, this sets a worrying precedent when it comes to privacy and surveillance concerns.

Sami Fathi:

In 2019, Apple warned that this new law would open up its device to possible risks and that it would be the “equivalent to jailbreaking.”

Previously:

Update (2021-04-16): Juli Clover:

A few weeks after Apple agreed to allow Russia to show iPhone users in the country suggested apps created by Russian developers, Russian users are seeing the list of app suggestions when setting up a new device.

John Gruber:

It’s impossible to square Apple’s (reasonable) desire to explain that the prompt to suggest installation of these Russian apps is mandated by Russian law with Apple’s refusal to allow developers to explain the App Store rules they are required to comply with. As I’ve written before, it is prima facie wrong that one of the App Store rules is that apps are not allowed to explain the App Store rules to users.

It’s quite a thing that Russia’s “law against Apple” allows for more transparency to users than Apple’s own App Store rules.

Previously:

9 Comments

A) Full list of required preinstalled app:
http://publication.pravo.gov.ru/Document/View/0001202101060012 (official text in russian)
https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=&sl=ru&tl=en&u=https%3A%2F%2Fbase.garant.ru%2F400169366%2F&sandbox=1 (translated in english)

It could be noted no preinstalled apps are required for Mac. For iOS it is not required to preinstall Kaspersky AntiVirus (it makes sense since sandboxed architecture of iOS).

B) As for term "preinstalled". It is defined here:

https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=&sl=ru&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fbase.garant.ru%2F74939121%2F&sandbox=1
5. Pre-installation of programs for technically complex goods is carried out in the following ways:
a) in full to the hard disk of a technically complex product;
b) by placing a graphic image of the program on the screen of a technically complex product, upon choosing which the consumer downloads the program;
c) by placing, at the first start-up of a technically complex product, a dialog box for downloading programs from each class of programs provided for a technically complex product, while there should be no possibility to skip such a dialog box.

It seems to me that 5.c was added due to Apple's lobby only.

C) Preinstalled apps may be not only Russia-made. Actually it is allowed to be made from five EEU-members (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Member_states_of_the_Eurasian_Economic_Union). But as of now the list consists of russian-made apps only.

I have the greatest respect for Nick Heer and his outstanding blog, but it seems to me, sadly, that North American bloggers and commentators are finding it hard to understand that Europe and Russia are determined to impose their rules on US-based companies at all costs, even if such rules were to be detrimental to their own economies.

Apple needs to appease the EU and Russia just as it needs to appease China, or it may well see itself banned from these markets, absurd as it seems.

To name but one example, the GDPR is currently being used to keep Microsoft out of large calls to tender in France, merely on the grounds that they are American. Contractual clauses guaranteeing that European data would remain in EU-based data centers are no longer deemed sufficient by regulators, because of pretend concerns about American intelligence activities.

In the same vein, Apple is not separating security updates from features updates on iOS by accident. The EU recently decided to frame mandatory feature updates as a planned obsolescence mechanism, based on the absurd idea that such updates necessarily slow down the devices on which they are installed. Laws are being written to forbid device makers from forcing users to update all the while mandating regular security patches for a certain number of years. Apple is just getting ahead of a fast-incoming law.

This is pure political madness, but Apple has enough sense to know when it should keep a low profile, and it is doing just what it needs to do to ensure the continued operation of their business.

The coverage of the situation is heavily shifted towards this new Russian law being authoritarian. However there is another angle to this.
In many countries, Russia included there are important apps that are used for government related business and choirs. For example to make an appointment to get updated documents or schedule doctor's visit, or apply for a passport etc.
It's crucial to get a right app for that, yet Apple can't really guaranty that if you search for it, or even enter an exact name of the app that you will get in the search result the right thing. I am not sure what the scam apps do to game the search in App Store or why Apple can't really address it well, but that's an issue, a big one.
The proposed deal with Apple will present an approved list of proper apps for people to select. There is no obligation to install them, and they can be easily deleted after the installation.

I do think that there are better solutions to this situation, for example Apple could make a special Russian App Store pages for important apps for Russian market, and remove apps that imitate official government apps, but since Apple did not really take care of those problems something had to be done. So the resulting Russian law is a crude tool, full of authoritarian and protectionists measures, it all could have been avoided if Apple acted at least a year ago.

@F

I dont have a problem with country "to impose their rules on US-based companies at all costs". After all it is their Market. Their Rules. The democratic system means Apple "could" theoretically explain their position to the general public. Although that doesn't work in an Authoritarian or totalitarian country.

I only have a problem the company is claiming to be so great, border line coming out as the Jesus Christ, and then back track on every thing they said they will do because it is the "law". Or they could have said their marketing message are purely aiming at Americans only. In which case at least I wont treat them like hypocrite. Because right now, everything they do is similar to early days Google. The so called " Do No Evil. "

I wonder why these companies agreed to have their software preinstalled, or if they were coerced?

To someone outside Russia, a list of software that Putin requires to be installed on a new phone looks sketchy as hell. I’d heard good things about Kaspersky in the past, but now I’m absolutely not going to have anything to do with their products.

**@Nate**

With respect, things are seldom this clear-cut. Why would any company refuse a little promotional help from their own government, if it came to it — keeping in mind that the law may not allow them to refuse, or that refusing may put them in an equivocal position with the official bodies that control their business?

Software patriotism and protectionism do not a bad product make. I cannot comment on Kaspersky’s products per se, but I would not rule them out based solely on their presence on this list.

Taking a step back, remember that, to a non-US-based audience, buying an iPhone means buying a device with “American apps preinstalled.”

There is no need for the US government to mandate that any apps be pre-installed because the device itself is US-made, but there is no saying whether the US government would not be tempted to mandate such a thing, were the most popular phones in the world manufactured in Russia!

Dmitri: "It's crucial to get a right app for that, yet Apple can't really guaranty that if you search for it, or even enter an exact name of the app that you will get in the search result the right thing."

App Store search sucks everywhere, in every product category. Scammers for popular apps are a serious problem in every country where Apple sells iPhones. Yet we don't see Apple pre-installing apps to solve this problem anywhere else in the world. That's why we're skeptical of this. It looks like even Apple doesn't think this is a decent solution.

If Apple simply came out and said "We're going to pre-install the top 20 free apps that people need, specific to each country", I don't think anyone would have a problem with that.

Ed: "I only have a problem the company is claiming to be so great, border line coming out as the Jesus Christ"

Please, enough with the hyperbole. "We think you're gonna love [our new product]" is not "border line coming out as the Jesus Christ". Can't we have one reasonable discussion of technology and law without it descending into that? You must literally be the anti-Christ.

Old Unix Geek

To understand, it helps to put oneself in the other person's shoes. In this case, the Russian government's. Russia is somewhat at a disadvantage. It relies on hardware produced by nations which are somewhat unfriendly and which keep applying sanctions to it. This is probably a means for them to level the playing field a bit.

By encouraging your population to use apps made locally that run on multiple platforms and which look similar on different platforms, you can move them more easily from platform to platform. If instead they had to look for equivalents themselves, they might choose more functional alternatives which are however locked to one platform. Then, if the US imposes further sanctions, that lock-in would cause the sanctions to have more effect because many of your citizens have to retool.

Similarly, by preinstalling Kaspersky's antivirus, you reduce the impact of a foreign cyberwarfare campaign, something the US has been threatening to avenge its claims that "Russia interfered in US elections".

I find the surveillance apps China forces the Uyghurs to install on their phones to be much more concerning.

I don’t get the authoritarian angle, here. Yes, Russia restricts freedoms (esp VPNs), but how is that the case here? It’s simply protectionism and anti trust.

Remember the EU browser ballot? Isn’t this the exact same thing?

And while I’m very much against protectionism, this is pretty minor compared to say banking Huawei without evidence of wrongdoing or the EU‘s streaming quota. It’s just a one-time forced ad.

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