After reportedly calling the requirements of a new Russian law a security threat and threatening to pull out of the country, Apple caved and decided to let Russia have its way, saying it would allow users to install government-approved Russian apps during iPhone setup. In recent days, we’ve gotten a first glimpse of what that looks like.
Spotted by MacRumors, Russian users have started to see a list of Russian app suggestions when setting up a new iPhone. The change has been spotted the same week a 2019 Russian law came into force. The law requires smart devices, e.g. smartphones, computers, tablets, and smart TVs, purchased in Russia to come pre-installed with government-approved Russian apps. Twitter user @KhaosT took a screen recording of the new iPhone setup, which looks pretty normal until you get to the special App Store popup.
“In compliance with Russian legal requirements, continue to view available apps to download,” the popup reads.
A few seconds later, another screen titled, “From the App Store Russian Apps,” appears with apps such as the Yandex Browser, Yandex.Maps, Yandex.Desk, Mail.ru, ICQ messenger, and the VK social network, among others. Users can click on the “Get” button to install them. As noted by MacRumors, thanks to reported deal between the Russian government and Apple, installing the apps is optional and they are not pre-installed on the device.
Apple told Reuters this week that even though it intended to comply with the new law, all apps are reviewed to ensure they comply with the company’s standards for privacy, security, and content.
The law was originally passed in 2019, although its implementation was delayed until April of this year. According to Reuters, Apple “dragged its feet” before finally agreeing last month to offer a way for users to install the government-approved apps during iPhone setups.
MacRumors reported that Apple would start providing Russian app suggestions on April 1. In addition, Apple told the outlet that it may add a new section to the App Store that aims to promote Russian apps. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that iPhone users in Russian can only install Russian apps; they can still install apps from made by developers in other countries.
Gizmodo reached out to Apple for comment but did not receive a response before the time of publication. We’ll make sure to update this blog if we hear back.
Russian legislators have argued that the law allows the country’s tech companies to become more competitive and also gives Russians a “right to choose” domestic alternatives. This may not sound that alarming at first, but when you consider Russia’s years-long effort to get a tighter grip over the internet, it’s clear that it’s yet another initiative to give the government control over its citizens’ online activities.
This isn’t the first time Apple has decided to give in to demands from the Russian government, and probably won’t be the last. In recent years, it stopped offering its gay pride watch face for the Apple Watch in Russia and also included Crimea as part of Russia in the country’s Apple Maps app. This isn’t a policy that applies just to Russia. Apple has also removed all major VPN apps from the App Store in China to comply with Chinese law.