Russia looks to ban Apple devices as its grip on internet control tightens

Russia has just passed a new law which bans the sale of devices which don’t come with Russian-made software and apps. The country’s latest move to increase government control over the internet looks likely to remove Apple from the Russian market altogether.
The Kremlin
Russia has passed a controversial new law restricting which apps can be installed on devices sold in the country. Photo: traveljunction via Flickr

Last Thursday Russia’s lower house of parliament passed a controversial new law which will prohibit the sale of electronic devices which don’t have Russian alternatives to standard apps.

On the face of it, the legislation aims to promote the Russian software industry and the choice of apps and software available to Russian consumers.

But it has also raised concerns over privacy and potential government surveillance which could easily be carried out using software installed in the place of standard alternatives.

What exactly will the new legislation ban?

Last week’s new law is pretty extreme as far as tech legislation goes. It will require all devices sold within the country to come with Russian-made alternatives to all the major apps, which will not be easy to make a reality.

The Russian government says the legislation will help the country develop its own alternatives to the apps used in and made by other countries.

Moscow skyline
Apple may be forced out of the Russian smartphone market altogether. Photo: Pasquale Paolo Cardo via Flickr

As reported by Naked Security by Sophos, the bill’s co-author, MP Oleg Nikolaev, said:

“[People] might think that there are no domestic alternatives available. And if, alongside pre-installed applications, we will also offer the Russian ones to users, then they will have a right to choose.”

As evidenced by this quote, the government’s official stance is that the legislation will encourage innovation and the use of Russian-made software.

Given the other measures the government has recently taken to restrict internet freedom in Russia, the real reason for the new legislation may well be more sinister.

Reports also suggest that government-approved apps, such as a browser and messaging service, will also be released in the near future.

Russia’s stance towards the internet

The Russian government has been ramping up its attempts to increase its control over domestic internet recently.

Earlier in November, the ‘sovereign internet’ law was passed, making deep packet internet traffic inspection mandatory for all ISPs operating in the country.

The latest ‘Russian-only’ app legislation just adds to many analysts’ assumptions that the Russian government is working towards tight control over domestic internet, in a similar vein to China.

Apple Store - Fifth Avenue
The new legislation will affect Apple most notably. Photo: Jorge Láscar via Flickr

How will the new legislation affect Apple?

Apple is known for its own tight control over the apps and software which can be used and installed on its devices.

As a result, Russian-only apps will likely not be compatible with Apple’s platform going forward.

This leaves the company with a choice – to open up its devices to the new Russian system, thereby setting a precedent which could embolden other countries to do the same, or to pull out of the Russian market altogether.

The Russian market is pretty big, but it likely isn’t important enough that Apple would risk losing control of its own device ecosystem and software.

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