Apple removes popular apps in Iran due to US sanctions

Apple removed several popular Iranian apps from its app stores this week, telling developers that the apps were blocked due to US sanctions against Iran. The move was met with criticism from Iran’s telecommunications minister and has sparked a backlash among Iranian iOS developers, who have faced increasingly tight restrictions in recent months.

On Thursday, Apple removed Snapp, an Uber-like ride-hailing app, from its App Store, after having previously a range of other apps, including DelionFoods, a food delivery service. The company has also prevented developers from updating their apps in recent months, according to TechRasa, an Iranian technology site that reported on the crackdown earlier this week. Apple began removing Iranian apps that facilitate “transactions for businesses or entities based in Iran” in January.

Apple does not have an App Store in Iran, but Iranian developers have created several apps for sale in other App Stores, and iPhones are routinely smuggled in to the country, despite an official ban on their sale. An estimated 48 million smartphones have been sold in Iran, a country of 80 million people, and there are an estimated 47 million social media users. (The country has for years blocked access to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.)

“This area of law is complex and constantly changing.”

“Under the US sanctions regulations, the App Store cannot host, distribute, or do business with apps or developers connected to certain US embargoed countries,” Apple said in a message to developers affected by the crackdown, according to an online petition to reverse the decision. “This area of law is complex and constantly changing. If the existing restrictions shift, we encourage you to resubmit your app for inclusion on the App Store.”

An Apple spokesman confirmed the authenticity of the message to The New York Times, but declined to comment further. The petition had garnered more than 2,300 signatures as of Friday morning, and developers have voiced their frustration on Twitter under the hashtag #StopRemovingIranianApps.

Google, notably, has not taken similar measures against Iranian apps on its Play Store. The company allows free Android apps on its Play Store in Iran, though it prohibits paid apps.

It is not clear whether Apple is responding to pressure from the Trump administration, which imposed a new set of sanctions against Iran this month. Under President Barack Obama, the US eased restrictions on technology companies that provide communication services in Iran, including email, chat, and social media services.

“Respecting customer rights is a principle today that Apple hasn’t abided by.”

Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, Iran’s newly appointed telecommunications minister, criticized Apple’s decision in a Persian-language tweet, noting that Apple commands 11 percent of the country’s smartphone market. “Respecting customer rights is a principle today that Apple hasn’t abided by,” the minister added, according to a translation from the Times. “We will legally pursue the omission of apps.”

Earlier this week, Jahromi said that negotiations were underway to remove the government’s ban on Twitter, which remains inaccessible for the population but is frequently used by Iranian leaders, including its conservative Supreme Leader. Jahromi, who became Iran’s youngest-ever minister this week, has faced criticism for his alleged role in conducting surveillance and interrogations during massive anti-government protests in 2009.

According to the petition, addressed to Apple CEO Tim Cook, Apple’s crackdown “will have drastic effects on the startup ecosystem and economy. On one hand, we are losing touch with our most needed application and services and on the other hand, it might cause many jobs to be lost.”

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