Today, the New York Times reported that Apple and Google removed an app from their Russian app stores under pressure from the Russian government.
This is our statement on the news, which can be attributed to Evan Greer (she/her), Director, Fight for the Future:
“Today’s news makes crystal clear: Apple’s restrictive and authoritarian app store policies are a human rights catastrophe. As long as Apple maintains a stranglehold over what software millions of people can and can’t run on devices that they own, the App Store will continue to be a convenient choke point for government censorship and crackdowns on dissent.
While Android users will be able to circumvent this ban through sideloading their phones, iPhone users have no such recourse. Apple’s authoritarian app store policies make it easy for autocratic regimes to pull the plug on democratic initiatives. And by maintaining its absolute control over the App Store, Apple willfully puts its employees in harm’s way in these countries so it can continue squeezing app developers and consumers while contributing nothing to user security or experience.
Apple’s top-down monopolistic approach is at the root of their harm. Part of the reason they’ve received such massive backlash for their misguided proposal to conduct on-device photo and message scanning is that their walled-garden model would make it impossible to avoid, even if users knew that the system had been co-opted by a government using it to look for, say, protest images, instead of CSAM. When the world learned that spyware firms had exploited a vulnerability in iMessage to hack the phones of dissidents, iPhone users couldn’t do anything other than wait for an update, because you can’t uninstall iMessage from your phone.
Make no mistake, we are only in the early days of authoritarian exploitation of technology to consolidate power and crush dissent. Autocratic regimes will continue testing the limits of what they can get away with and how they can make Big Tech complicit in fast tracking their agendas. The only way to put an end to this — and protect the Internet, democracy, and tech workers in the process — is to allow sideloading and app store alternatives on these devices. And if Apple refuses to do so, then it’s up to lawmakers to force them to.
The future of technology is at stake. We’re at a watershed moment: will the future of the Internet and technology be built on principles of openness, privacy, and human rights? Or will we end up in the future Apple has envisioned: heavily surveilled walled gardens where tyrants dictate what we can see and do with our own devices? The choice is up to us.“