Apple has removed a number of popular apps developed in Iran from its App Store, including ride-hailing, food delivery and mCommerce services all aimed towards Iranian consumers. The firm cited US sanction regulations as its reason for removing the services, which had proliferated despite the fact that Apple does not offer a dedicated version of its App Store for the nation.
Apple has no presence in Iran, due to US trade sanctions which prevent companies from doing business with the country. Despite this, millions of iPhones exist in the Middle East country, often smuggled in from places like Dubai and Hong Kong, and Iranian developers have created thousands of apps aimed at local users and distributed them through App Stores outside Iran.
Apple’s crackdown follows a similar wave of removals which targeted Chinese apps designed to enable residents to evade censors and gain access to the global internet. The apps were deemed illegal by the Chinese government, and Apple consequently removed them, seeking to maintain a good relationship with what has become the world’s largest market for iOS apps.
Iranian developers have spoken out against the move, starting a campaign on Twitter using the hashtag #StopRemovingIranianApps. Like Facebook and YouTube, Twitter is banned by the government in Iran, but determined Iranians still use it to connect with each other and the world at large.
“We work so hard, and have to fight all the time, and now this,” said Mahdi Taghizadeh, founder of online food delivery service DelionFoods, speaking to the New York Times. His app was among those removed during the purge. “No one with an iPhone can download any of the popular apps any more. Imagine if in the US, you wouldn’t be able to get Uber on your phone.”
Google does not appear to have undertaken a similar campaign against apps in its Play Store. Android developers can publish apps in Iran as long as they do not involve purchases, although just like in the App Store, a number of Iranian services that break these rules do exist.
Iran’s new telecommunications minister, Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, has also spoken out on Twitter regarding Apple’s decision to remove the apps, and has said he is planning to pursue the issue.
“11 per cent of the cellphone market in Iran belongs to Apple,” wrote Azari Jahromi on Twitter (translated from Persian). “Respecting customer rights is a principle today that Apple hasn’t abided by. We will legally pursue the omission of apps.”
Azari Jahromi has also hinted that Twitter and YouTube may be unblocked in Iran in the near future, but has also affirmed that this is not his decision to make.