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New U.S. sanctions are forcing Apple to remove several popular Iranian apps from its App Stores, despite Apple not having a formal presence in the country.
“Under the U.S. sanctions regulations, the App Store cannot host, distribute or do business with apps or developers connected to certain U.S. embargoed countries,” Apple wrote to developers affected by the ban.
It’s a curious situation, and one most Americans may not realize even exists. The U.S. and Iran have a long and complicated history, and for many years, the U.S. has issued sanctions (bans on trade, the elimination of diplomatic ties) against Iran due to its nuclear weapons program. Under the Obama administration, some of those sanctions were softened. American tech companies were able to reach out to Iranians to encourage “a free flow of information,” the New York Times reports.
However, under the Trump administration, which authorized new sanctions earlier this month, things have again tightened up.
And so that brings us to Apple. Apple has never had a presence in Iran: It doesn’t sell iPhones there, and it doesn’t have an App Store there. Still though, there are an estimated 48 million smartphones being used in Iran, and roughly 6 million of those are iPhones. Without an App Store, these users must rely on third-party app stores or App Stores for other countries. Yet there are Iranian-made apps, such as Snapp (a ride-hailing company) and Digikala (an e-commerce startup). Apple recently shuttered both of these apps, and Iranian iOS users aren’t happy.
In fact, there’s currently an online petition asking Tim Cook to stop removing Iranian apps from the App Store. The petition reads:
We, the people of Iran, believe that the soul of technology transcends every policy set in the world. The global village vision for this world was achieved through nothing but technology and Apple has always been on the forefront of this globalization. Yet surprisingly, Apple is now bordering access to one of the most used technology platforms in the world.
Right now, 3,600 people have shown their support by signing the petition. Iran’s telecommunications minister has also voiced disapproval of Apple’s actions on Twitter, saying “Respecting customer rights is a principle today that Apple hasn’t abided by. We will legally pursue the omission of apps.”
Besides confirming the message being delivered to Iranian app developers, Apple hasn’t commented on the situation.
Christina Bonnington is a tech reporter who specializes in consumer gadgets, apps, and the trends shaping the technology industry. Her work has also appeared in Gizmodo, Wired, Refinery29, Slate, Bicycling, and Outside Magazine. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and has a background in electrical engineering.