Earlier today, Moscow-based BBC journalist Will Vernon noticed that Apple appears to have quietly ceded to Russia’s stance on Crimea by redrawing national borders on the Russian version of its Maps app and labeling the region as “Russia.” When viewed from the US, Crimea is listed simply as “Crimea” and no home country is given for the peninsula. Since Russia occupied and annexed the peninsula in 2014, Crimea is still recognized by the majority of nations (including the U.S. and those of the EU) as part of Ukraine.
Gizmodo independently confirmed the change. In the screengrab below, Crimea is listed as: “Republic of Crimea, Russia.”
On the State Duma website, Chairman of the Committee on Security and Corruption Control Vasilii Piskarev is quoted as saying that “Apple fulfilled its obligations and brought the applications on its devices in compliance with the requirements of the Russian legislation.”
Writing in English, Ukraine Minister of Foreign Affairs Vadym Prystaiko tweeted at Apple:
Let me explain in your terms, @Apple. Imagine you’re crying out that your design & ideas, years of work & piece of your heart are stolen by your worst enemy but then smb ignorant doesn’t give a damn about your pain. That’s how it feels when you call #Crimea a 🇷🇺 land.
Apple has been inching gradually closer to a blanket policy of regime capitulation. In 2017, Apple removed all major VPN apps from the App Store in China, saying they had no choice but to follow Chinese law.
Just last month, a group of bipartisan lawmakers blasted Apple for removing HKMapLive, a tool for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, from the App Store. (Tim Cook reportedly defended the decision in a company memo, claiming that the app, which crowdsourced data on police movements, had been used “maliciously to target individual officers for violence and to victimize individuals and property where no police are present.”)
Earlier this year, Foreign Policy reported that Russia had successfully compelled Apple to store Russian users’ data on servers in Russia–adding that if it follows Russian counterterrorism law, it would be forced to decrypt and surrender user data to the government.
In 2017, Apple removed LinkedIn from the App Store in Russia, and there was some speculation that Apple had quietly stopped updating Telegram in the wake of Russia’s call for a ban on the app. (It eventually did make the updates.)
Apple is not typically vocal in its decision-making processes, but it’ll need to explain this one. We reached out and will update the post if we hear back.