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Apple won’t let Telegram explain censorship of anti-government channels in Belarus: Telegram CEO

Telegram
Credit: Soumyarendra Barik

In a series of events surfaced by Daring Fireball, it appears that Apple is censoring Telegram channels and simultaneously not letting the messaging platform explain why the censorship is happening to users. “Apple is requesting that we shut down 3 channels used by the people of Belarus to expose the identities of their oppressors,” Pavel Durov, Telegram founder and CEO, said in a broadcast. “Their concern is that publishing the personal information of law enforcers and propagandists may incite violence.”

Apple requires apps it hosts on its App Store to follow certain guidelines on user generated content. We have reached out to Apple for comment.

Durov said in a subsequent post that Apple told media that it was only requesting that specific posts containing personal information be removed. “This sly wording ignores the fact that channels [that Apple targeted] consist entirely of personal information of violent oppressors and those who helped rig the elections – because that is why those channels exist,” Durov argued. Belarusians have been protesting for months against what they consider rigged election results that saw the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.

Apple’s involvement in getting protestors’ channels banned raises questions of platform dominance, even if those questions are somewhat muddled by the fact that personal information is involved. But beyond that, Apple’s apparent refusal to let Telegram inform users know why this ban is being imposed seems to be a free speech issue that also raises significant questions.

As Daring Fireball and Durov both noted, after Apple refused to waive its 30% in-app transaction commission for transactions on Facebook supporting small businesses and creators, the iPhone maker refused to let the social media company tell users — even in very tiny text — that Apple would get 30% of the payment users were about to make. (Apple later relented, waiving event fees on Facebook until the end of 2020.)

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This adds a civil rights angle to Apple’s legal battles with app developers on the vast control it exercises on apps’ speech, including about the 30% fee on in-app transactions. Spotify, for instance, which has initiated antitrust proceedings against Apple in the European Union, has said that Apple refused to let the streaming service advertise deals or tell users that they will be able to avail subscriptions for cheaper on an internet browser.

Epic Games, the developer of Fortnite, recently lost a case to force Apple to reinstate the game on the App Store. Epic had announced that it would bypass the App Store’s 30% fee, and Fortnite was removed from the App Store after that.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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