Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Apple Has Agreed to Prompt for Installation of iOS Apps From Russian Developers, According to Local Media

Valery Kodachigov of the Vedomosti business newspaper broke the news. Alas, this story is in Russian, though Google seems to do a pretty good job of translating it:

A high-ranking source in the Ministry of Digital Industry told Vedomosti about reaching an agreement with Apple. The agreements stipulate that when you first turn on an Apple device purchased in Russia, during setup, the user will see a dialog box in which he will be prompted to install applications from the list approved by the government by default, the source told Vedomosti. It will be possible to refuse the installation by unchecking the boxes in front of certain applications, explains the source of the publication.

The Apple office confirmed this information.

If a Google Translate version isn’t your thing, the Radio Free Europe version appears to be a good rewrite. TASS is separately reporting that device manufacturers will be required to set a domestic search engine as the browser default, though precisely which one will be announced later.

Nickstradamus got it wrong again:

This Russian law really is something else. While I could see a situation in which certain apps aren’t available in Russia, I cannot imagine that Apple would sell iPhones specially customized in accordance with the Russian government’s wishes. That’s an indefensible precedent. Russia’s internet policy goals are increasingly distant from the rest of the world. If isolation is what they wish for, the rest of us should not be dragged along.

I hate getting stuff like this wrong. I stand by this on principle, but clearly 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.

Update: Via Matthew Baker, who confirmed that this is still the case, a reminder that Apple hides the emoji flag for Taiwan when an iPhone’s region is set to China. Apple Maps and Google Maps also show different borders for some regions, depending on your location and device region. But suggesting app installation is an escalation of acquiescence to the demands of a country with a miserable human rights record and significant backsliding of democratic principles.