Apple Restores Russian Social Network VKontakte and Mail.ru to App Store

Apple has restored Russian apps for social network VKontakte and webmail provider Mail.ru to the App Store, three weeks after removing them and other VK-owned apps in response to UK sanctions (via The Guardian).

vk logo
The two services, which could be described as home-grown versions of Facebook and Gmail, were pulled following a package of sanctions enacted by the British government that affected tens of executives at Gazprombank, a Russian bank with links to VK. The sanctions were in response to sham referenda staged by Russian authorities in occupied areas of Ukraine.

"These apps are being distributed by developers majority-owned or majority-controlled by one or more parties sanctioned by the UK government," Apple said in a statement at the time.

It wasn't immediately clear why Apple restored the apps, since ownership of VKontake and Mail.ru has not changed since the apps were removed, and the leadership of Gazprombank and Sberbank remain sanctioned by the British government. However, it's possible Apple's decision was related to the use of both services by activists.

The apps re-appeared on App Stores globally on Monday, as flagged by monitoring project Apple Censorship. Benjamin Ismail, the project's director, told The Guardian:

The only thing we can say for sure is that, once again, Apple implements its App Stores policies in total opacity, thinking it will not be held accountable for its actions. While we are glad to see those apps restored, as some activists and members of civil society organisations were still using them when they were removed, we condemn Apple for its continuous, erratic, and non-transparent way of managing content in the App Store.

Both VKontake and Mail.ru apps were included in a list that Apple was legally obliged to show to new iPhone owners in Russia for download during initial setup, until Apple stopped selling its products in the country.

Update: A spokesperson for Apple shared the following statement:

The apps from this developer were removed from the App Store, as required by law, after multiple requests were made to the developer to provide documentation to verify that they were not in violation of UK sanctions. Subsequent to the removal, the developer has provided the requisite information verifying that they are not majority owned or controlled by a sanctioned entity. Thus, the apps have been reinstated to the App Store.

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Top Rated Comments

tubular Avatar
21 months ago
If it helps the Russians to organize and overthrow Putin, I’m all for it. Preferably before he’s bombed every Ukrainian power plant, apartment block, and hospital.
Score: 21 Votes (Like | Disagree)
leman Avatar
21 months ago
I am appalled that Apple even still operates in Russia.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
genovelle Avatar
21 months ago
I’m really puzzled at how the same party that cheered the loudest and proclaimed Ronald a political god for his part in the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War, could Flipflop 180 degrees and support candidates that support Putin’s effort to recreate the Soviet Union by force and political interference.

A former top Soviet KGB officer skilled in propaganda is at the helm of a dictatorship.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
sirozha Avatar
21 months ago
Why?
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
nt5672 Avatar
21 months ago
It is good to hear both sides regardless of your political persuasion. Banning speech never does anyone any good, except for corrupt political leaders.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Skyscraperfan Avatar
21 months ago
If Apple blocks an app for any reason except fraud or cyber security, it is just pure censorship. If it is my phone, it should be my choice which apps I install. I still remember when Apple threatened a German newspaper app with blocking because it contained nudity. So Apple treats its customers like kids who should be protected from seeing female nipples.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)