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Apple won’t leave Russia iPhone maker bows to new government-imposed app requirements

Source: Meduza
Edgar Su / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

On March 16, the newspaper Vedomosti reported that the computer manufacturer Apple has agreed to comply with a law that requires the company to pre-install Russian-made applications on new mobile devices. Sources at Apple have confirmed this information to Meduza. Beginning on April 1 (when the new regulations start to enter force), customers activating their new iPhones and iPads will be prompted to install applications from a government-drafted list of domestic-owned software. The Russian legislation in question is known informally as “the law against Apple.”

The Russian law requiring pre-installation of Russian apps on “certain types of technologically advanced goods” doesn’t specify what devices this means, but the federal government has determined that the new restrictions will apply to all smartphones, tablets, desktop computers, laptops, and smart TVs sold in Russia. Meduza’s sources in the State Duma confirmed that the legislation was a Kremlin initiative, implemented as part of the Putin administration’s “sovereign Internet” strategy. 

In 2019, when lawmakers first introduced the legislation, Apple’s representatives met with Russian state officials and reportedly threatened to “revise the company’s business model in Russia,” if the government imposed the new requirements.

In the end, Apple opted for compliance

A senior official in Russia’s Digital Development Ministry told Vedomosti that Apple plans to comply with the software requirements by offering new customers a choice. After buying a new iPhone or iPad, owners will now see an interactive window offering the installation of several pre-selected Russian-made apps. Users can decline or accept, and they can delete the apps later, if they install them initially but change their minds. Sources at Apple confirmed the interactive-window compromise to both Vedomosti and Meduza.

This isn’t the first time Apple has made design changes to promote third-party apps in its device setup process. Last fall, 9to5Mac found evidence in the iOS 14.3 beta code that revealed “a new menu in the system setup process that will show suggestions for App Store apps even before the user starts using the device.” Apple has not indicated where it might enable this new feature, but journalists expect it to roll out in the European Union, where regulators have already sued Google for supposedly anti-competitive practices. Apple also faces antitrust investigations in Japan, France, German, South Korea, and at home in the United States. It’s unknown if Apple’s new setup process has appeared in any official iOS releases (not just in beta code).

What apps are on Russia’s pre-installation list?

On December 31, 2020, the Russian government published a list of domestic applications that must be offered to electronic consumers by default. On iOS, these are the apps:

  • Yandex Browser (freeware web browser)
  • Yandex Search
  • Yandex Maps
  • Yandex Disk (cloud file storage)
  • Email App – Mail.r‪u‬
  • ICQ: Messenger & Video Callin‪g‬
  • Marusia Voice Assistant
  • Mail.ru News (news aggregator)
  • OK Live (video livestreams)
  • VKontakte (social network similar to Facebook)
  • Odnoklassniki (social network similar to MySpace)
  • Goslugi (portal for various public services and payments)
  • My Office Documents
  • Applist.ru (apparently government-developed software that aggregates other popular Russian apps)

Android phones will have to offer pre-installation of an additional two apps: MirPay (which enables Russia’s “Mir” electronic payment system) and Kaspersky Internet Security.

Apple has adapted to software demands in other countries, in the past. FaceTime is disabled in the United Arab Emirates, for example, because the authorities prohibit video-telephony services to protect the local telecoms industry. In China, meanwhile, iPhones are sold with Dual SIM cards (not one nano-SIM card and an eSIM card). iPhones sold in Russia were already preloaded with Yandex Maps. In Japan, iPhones come equipped with Suica and PASMO contactless payment systems. In Germany, meanwhile, Apple has been forced to make NFC payments available to services other than Apple Pay.

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Story by Denis Dmitriev with additional reporting by Sultan Suleimanov

Translation by Kevin Rothrock

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