Russia Asks Apple To Remove Telegram From App Store

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

But Telegram CEO and founder claims that Apple has already prevented its messaging app from updating globally

Apple is facing a hobson’s choice moment, after Russia formally requested that it remove the secure messaging app Telegram from its App store.

But it comes amid claims from the CEO and founder of Telegram this week that Apple is already discriminating against his app, as it is reportedly refusing to allow the app to be updated globally.

The Russian issue however began in April when access to Telegram was shut down in Russia. That decision was taken by Russian authorities after the app refused to give Russian state security services access to its users’ secret messages by handing over encryption keys used to scramble the messages.

Russian ban

But this Russian ban ordered by Russia’s regulator Roskomnadzor (RKN), has also affected other services in Russia. Google for example confirmed its services in that country were also being affected after the Telegram ban.

And it seems that despite Roskomnadzor’s best efforts to ban Telegram, the majority of users in Russia are still be able to access the app.

Indeed, the communications regulator has only succeeded in disrupting Telegram’s operations by 15 to 30 percent.

“Russia banned Telegram on its territory in April because we refused to provide decryption keys for all our users’ communications to Russia’s security agencies. We believe we did the only possible thing, preserving the right of our users to privacy in a troubled country”, Pavel Durov, a pioneer of Russian social media, was quoted by Reuters as saying on his official Telegram Channel.

While Russia makes up only 7 percent of Telegram’s user base, Apple is restricting updates for all Telegram users around the world, Durov claimed.

“As a result, we’ve also been unable to fully comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for our EU-users by the deadline of May 25, 2018. We are continuing our efforts to resolve the situation”, he said.

Apple request

This failure by the Russians has, according to Wccftech, prompted the country to now reach out to Apple to ask for a helping hand in blocking Telegram.

This is because Telegram is reportedly still available on the Russian version of Apple’s App Store.

Besides asking Apple to remove Telegram from its app store, Russia is also asking Apple to block it from sending push notifications to local users.

It reportedly also sent Apple a supposedly legally binding letter, giving the company one month to comply before they enforce punishment for violations.

“In order to avoid possible action by Roskomnadzor for violations of the functioning of the above-mentioned Apple Inc. service, we ask you to inform us as soon as possible about your company’s further actions to resolve the problematic issue,” the regulator is quoted as writing.

“We sent them a legally binding letter and are awaiting their legally binding reply,” Roskomnadzor’s director Alexander Zharov is quoted as saying. “Because Apple, like other transnational companies, is a company with a high degree of red tape, we expect the reply within a month.”

“For now, I would not like to forecast further actions,” Zharov told Interfax when asked what actions will be taken if Apple doesn’t comply.

And it is reported that Roskomnadzor is also in talks with Google to ban the app from Google Play.

Terrorist tool?

Russian authorities have previously accused Telegram of enabling terrorists to communicate in secret through the encrypted messaging, and have blamed the app for concealing the messages of the suicide bomber who killed 15 people in St Petersburg in April 2017.

The app is also known to have been used by Islamic State for propaganda purposes in the past, especially by those based in Russia, but the company has made efforts to clamp down on these terrorist accounts.

Despite this, Russia’s FSB Federal Security Service wants access to some messages for its work, including safeguarding against terrorist attacks.

Telegram has consistently refused to comply with its demands, citing respect for user privacy. Indeed, Pavel Durov has always maintained his stance against the sharing of confidential data with government entities.

Durov is a Russian citizen but the Telegram team have relocated to a number of countries over the years, and is now based in Dubai.

Iran last month also began to disrupt certain features of Telegram.

Apple compliance

Apple for its part has a mixed record when it comes to compiling with government requests.

In 2016 it famously refused a request from the FBI to unlock the iPhone of the San Bernardino terrorist, Syed Rizwan Farook.

But last year Apple took down virtual private networking apps, or VPNs, from its App Store in China in order to comply with strict Chinese cyber security laws.

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