Friday, July 5, 2024

Apple Removes VPN Apps From Russian App Store

William Gallagher (Mastodon):

Apple’s App Store team has been notifying VPN developers that their apps are being removed “per demand from Roskomnadzor.” This the state media watchdog that previously forced both Apple and Google to remove a political app backed by the leader of the country’s opposition.

According to the Moscow Times, the Roskomnadzor regulator based its demand on how the apps include “content that is illegal in Russia.” It also reports that this demand to remove mobile apps follows the regulator’s increasing blocking of VPN services.

Francisco Tolmasky:

Just like when Apple got rid of the HKlive app during the Hong Kong protests. Imagine if there was a way to install apps not through the AppStore. That way the AppStore couldn’t be exploited as a censorship tool by governments. But then Apple might not make every possible cent off the iPhone, so probably not worth it. It’s crazy that Apple is probably happier with Russia’s actions towards the AppStore than Europe’s. No public fit. No press release. Just quiet compliance.

I am seeing some pushback in the form of “What is Apple supposed to do? That’s the law in Russia!” This is a bizarre post-2007 mentality. No one asked “How is Microsoft going to stop Limewire?!” No one thought it was Microsoft’s responsibility to single-handedly defeat piracy. Apple went out of their way to make themselves the sole gatekeeper, thus making themselves a target for manipulation.

Miguel Arroz:

The problem is not Apple complying with foreign laws. They have to, and although that is not true here, in most instances it’s a good thing (I don’t want American companies bullying through European or Canadian laws, for example).

The problem is Apple building platforms that prevent users from violating the law if they so wish. And from the moment authoritarian governments know such a thing is possible, they will leverage it and eventually require it.

Francisco Tolmasky:

It is much harder to write a law requiring an existing open platform become closed. Russia could have theoretically mandated that Microsoft write a new version of Win95 that used a certificate system so apps could only be acquired through a new mandated app store, but… that’s kind of a stretch (and would require considerable imagination). Instead, Apple on their own created a button that can be used for censorship, allowing a gov to simply have to ask to press it.

One way to look at it is that Apple has created a situation where the path of least resistance, the easiest thing for them to do, is to just comply with whatever censorship request is asked of them. That is never a good thing. It’s similar to the argument for end-to-end encryption: you create a situation where it is incredibly difficult (impossible) to comply with a government request, because it is too dangerous to just leave it up to whether can effectively “challenge” the request.

Apple understands this with private messaging. They can do right by their customers and avoid getting involved in these political matters. It’s a win-win, but perhaps that’s only possible because iMessage is a loss leader. End-to-end encryption makes iPhones better, so Apple sells more hardware. But with the App Store and the services strategy, the incentives are not so aligned. There could be a nice decentralized system for getting software, as with the Mac and the Web. But the temptation is too great to mandate that all the roads converge on a single choke point so that they can put a tollbooth on it.

Luke Dormehl:

The apparent trouble with Russia’s secret police and spy agency came up in Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography of Jobs. Isaacson wrote that Jobs “insisted on talking about” Trotsky, the Bolshevik leader exiled as an “enemy of the people.” Trotsky was later assassinated in Mexico under the orders of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

“You don’t want to talk about Trotsky,” a KGB agent allegedly told Jobs. “Our historians have studied the situation, and we don’t believe he’s a great man anymore.”

Jobs ignored this advice, according to Isaacson. “When they got to the state university in Moscow to speak to computer students, Jobs began his speech by praising Trotsky,” he wrote.


Update (2024-07-08): Matthew Connatser:

“We also know that Google has received similar requests from the Russian regulatory agency and has even notified some proxy services that they might face removal,” Roskomsvoboda claims. “However, it has not taken any action so far.”

Roskomsvoboda believes eight VPN apps are no longer available on the Russian App Store, including popular ones such as NordVPN, Proton, and Private Internet Access.

4 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

Does no one in politics or business have any semblance of shame anymore? It's like most people in power have stopped caring to even pretend they're trying to do good, because they intend to keep the populace so busy just scraping by that we don't have time to call out this sort of naked hypocrisy and corruption.

Enough. Take a stand. Even if it's just with your own family and friends. If we remain silent on these sorts of issues simply to keep the peace, we will have neither peace nor the ability to enjoy it.

Which list of applications?

On Android, couldn't people install the apps outside the app store by downloading it as .apk from the web?

There is also F-Droid and tons of VPNs listed there (F-Droid itself has to be installed via .apk first):

@Peter M.
Yep, sideloading allowances make removal from the Google Play store largely moot given the app developers can offer direct downloads and so can alternative app stores.

Small clarification, you don't even have to install the F-Droid apk first to use the apps listed in F-Droid because they wisely have the ability to direct download the apks from the F-Droid website. True, you have to then manually download each update if the app doesn't have it's own update notification ability, but you can do so if you wish. In fact, the main reason I use Android is for this increased level of openness.

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