Apple reportedly calls Russia’s new law a security threat, but eventually complies with it.
Smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, laptops, and desktop computers purchased in Russia are now required to have pre-installed Russian apps approved by its government, thanks to Russia’s Ministry of Digital Affairs.
The new iPhone setup process
The new iPhone setup includes the special App Store popup. After the standard setup procedures such as setting light/dark mode, or adjusting Display Zoom, Apple users would see a list of app suggestions when setting up a new iPhone.
As shown from a post by Twitter user Khaos Tian, the popup text reads, “In compliance with Russian legal requirements, here are some apps from Russian developers that you may download,” which resembles an App Store view card.
Then another screen prompts, “From the App Store Russian Apps,” appears with apps such as the Yandex Browser, Yandex.Maps, Yandex.Desk, an email app from Mail.ru, a video live streaming service called OK Live, ICQ messenger, and the popular Russian social network VK, among others.
iPhone users can choose the apps they want to install by simply clicking the “Get” button, or tapping the “X” to skip downloading any apps. Downloading the apps is optional, and they are not installed automatically on the device.
The App Store suggestions have been implemented server side, so Russian users will see them with no iOS update required on their Apple devices.
The law was originally passed back in 2019. The implementation was only delayed until April this year.
The law allows Russia’s tech companies to be more competitive, reduce their country’s dependence on foreign companies, and gain more control over the internet.
Although Apple intends to comply with the new law, all apps are reviewed to guarantee they comply with the company’s standards, privacy, security, and content.
This may sound harmless in the beginning, but when you think of Russia‘s effort to dominate the internet over the years, it is obvious that this is yet another initiative to give the government control over its citizens’ online activities.
The apps are not exactly developed by the Russian government. The Kremlin, however, like many authoritarian governments, has extensive reach within its internet ecosystem.
Broader distribution of its favored apps could result in expanded government access to Russian user data and personal information, or even situations where the government tracks which devices are using certain apps and which have removed them.
Apple has been willing to make changes. This is not the first time the company caved in to Russia’s demands, and probably won’t be the last.
It is a significant adjustment from the company which typically maintains strict control over the startup process of its devices.
The company also recently stopped offering its gay pride watch face for the Apple Watch in Russia, and changed maps to show Crimea as Russian territory.
A news outlet notes that Yandex and Mail.ru are the big beneficiaries of the new law. However, a Russian official said last month that alternative apps will be included if they prove popular with users.