Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Apple Removes VK and Apps From the App Store

Oleg Danylov (via Hacker News, Reddit):

The VKontakte social network client and some other VK and applications have been removed from the Apple App Store. All these apps are still available on Google Play.


This is not the first time that Apple has removed VK applications, the same happened in 2014, but after some time the applications were returned to the store.

I’m not sure to what extent they are controlled by the Russian government, versus cooperating with them, as US social networks do with our government. The role of sanctions is also not clear. I have not heard of new sanctions, so if sanctions were the cause you would think Apple would have removed the apps long ago—and that they would not still be on Google Play.


My impression is that both services are widely used in “Slavic” countries, not just Russia. In particular, my relatives in Ukraine use both and VK. I wonder if this will trigger a move to equivalent American services, like Facebook or Gmail, for some.


I am a bit conflicted here. On the one hand I hate VK because it has censorship, they provide tools to police to monitor conversations and crack down on people.

On the other, now that Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are banned it leaves even less means of communication and spreading information inside Russia, as bad as VK was.


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VK was founded by Yuri Milner, who has helped "Russian state organizations with ties to Vladimir Putin" invest in other companies, according to the Paradise Papers.

I have very fleeting knowledge of this, but at this point and considering the past two decades as well as the past year, the burden is on them to demonstrate their independence. I'm assuming that they are as good as under the control of the Russian government, but allowing that it may be against their wishes. They may simply wish to avoid contracting the seasonal Stair flu.

This is an example of why I don't believe hardware/OS makers/ISPs should have any right to limit what runs on their 'platform'. They make tools, not mind control devices.

This action won't be hurting the Russian government. It will be hurting normal people who saved quite a few months of salary to buy something as expensive as an iPhone. Now they may not be able to receive their email on their only device. And if you think angry Russian iPhone users can change government policy, there's a word to describe you: useful idiot.

If Apple couldn't prevent people from running whatever they wanted, they wouldn't have to apply governments' sanctions on what software their users can run, and thereby harm them.

Banning VK inside Russia is a hostile act from a foreign country. We'd be pissed if Saudi Arabia were to ban us from using apps made by our companies in the West, even if the App Store had been invented by Saudis and were hosted in Saudi Arabia.

I wonder how Russia will react. iPhone exploits to allow their software to be installed regardless? Making their own phones without Android or iOS, perhaps in collaboration with China? Banning Apple and Google devices from connecting to the phone system?

FWIW, I think I read somewhere that Apple was following British sanctions on this because that's the law it chose under which European app developers must register.

It's laugh out loud funny to see people framing this as "a strike agains government control" when it's an actual example of government control. Except it's western democracies banning things in a different country because... all russians bad?

Calling for VK to demonstrate their independence is all fine and good. But what about accepting that Apple has just demonstrated (again) that they're not independent?

There are several big IT companies in Russia, but the two biggest ones are: Yandex and Group. basically was taken over by government via shady deals a while ago. The process of of absorbing it for the full control of people closely tied to Kremlin drastically lowered the quality of their software and services, but over time they got a bit better.
So "acquired" many other big companies like VK (formally VKontakte, founded by Pavel Durov, who lost control of the company after refusing to cooperate with gov, fled the country and started Telegram), Odnoklassniki, Rambler Search etc. Some are still competitive, some are not so much. But yes, all their stuff is very much aligned with the state agenda.

Yandex was different, many of the key people were against the cooperation with gov. But since the war started they are loosing the company, many parts of the brand are "sold" to various new pro-gov players. The core part is still there, but we do not know for how long.

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