Apple has restored Russian social network VKontatke and webmail provider Mail.Ru to the App Store, three weeks after removing them both for sanctions violations, Alex Hern from The Guardian reported.
According to Alex Hern, the two services are home-grown versions of Facebook and Gmail with domestic market share to match. They were removed from Apple’s platforms in late September, following a wave of British sanctions that targeted the financial organizations that own them.
Apple has not responded to requests for comment from The Guardian. The ownership of VKontake and Mail.Ru has not changed in the past month, and the leadership of Gazprombank and Sberbank remain sanctioned by the British government. It is unclear why Apple restored the apps, but they reappeared on App Stores globally on Monday morning, according to the monitoring project Apple Censorship.
The @applecensorship Twitter account posted the article by MacRumors and the piece from The Guardian about Apple’s decision to return Vkontatke and Mail.Ru to the App Store.
According to The Guardian, the project director of Apple Censorship is Benjamin Ismail. He gave the following quote to 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 organizations 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.”
MacRumors reported that the two services 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 a sham referenda staged by Russian authorities in occupied areas of Ukraine.
According to Mac Rumors, Apple said in a statement at the time, “These apps are being distributed by developers majority-owned or majority-controlled by one or more parties sanctioned by the UK government,”
MacRumors also reported that 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. According to MacRumors, it is possible that Apple’s decision was related to the use of both services by activists.
An Apple spokesperson shared the following statement with MacRumors:
“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.”
Clearly, Apple and Apple Censorship have differing ideas about what happened that caused the apps to be removed from Apple’s App Store – and then brought back to it. I don’t think we are going to hear any more news about this, now that Apple has given a statement to MacRumors.