Apple has bowed to government pressure and made a change to its Maps and Weather apps that’s sure to turn out controversial. Specifically, the Cupertino tech giant now lists Crimea as Russian territory on iPhones in Russia. Here’s why that’s important.
Listing Crimea as Part of Russia
Back in March 2014, Russian troops annexed Crimea from Ukraine. That move drew condemnation from the international community. To this day, the U.S., European Union and many other countries don’t recognize Crimea as Russian territory.
Russia feels differently. And over the past few months, the Russian government has been in talks with Apple over what it calls an “inaccuracy” in the way Crimea is labeled, the BBC reported.
Apple originally suggested that Crimea could be displayed as undefined or contested territory. But now, it appears that the Cupertino tech giant has conceded to Russian demands, displaying Crimea as part of Russian territory if viewed on an Apple device in the country.
Vasily Piskaryov, the chairman of the State Duma’s security committee, officially announced that Apple had complied with their demands.
“There is no going back,” Piskaryov said. “Today, with Apple, the situation is closed — we have received everything we wanted.”
Apparently, to make Apple make the change, the chairman pointed out that labeling Crimea as part of Ukraine is actually a criminal offense under Russian law.
Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs, Vadym Pristaiko, denounced the move in an English-language tweet on Wednesday.
At this point, other tech giants don’t appear to have followed suit. Google lists Crimea as disputed territory on its platform, but does use the Russian spelling of Crimean names on maps in Russia.
How Apple Deals with National Demands
This isn’t the first time that Apple has landed in hot water when it comes to international affairs. The company has made similar concessions to both China and Russia in the past.
For example, Apple stores iCloud data on local state-run servers in China — a move that privacy and human rights groups denounced. Certain types of apps, like VPNs, are also banned on the Chinese App Store.
Apple also allegedly blocked its Pride Watch Face in Russia, presumably to keep from running afoul of Russian laws against “non-traditional sexual relationships.” Additionally, there was a dustup in 2018 over end-to-end encrypted messaging apps on the App Store.
Even more recently than that, Apple began removing or refusing to approve apps that were used by pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong.
In all of these cases, it appears that Apple makes changes to comply with local laws and regulations in the countries in which it operates. Which makes sense, since Apple wants to continue doing business in those countries.
But for a company that went toe-to-toe with the FBI, bowing to government pressure does seem out of character — and is undoubtedly problematic when those changes are obviously authoritarian.