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).
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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