Why Telegram had to follow Apple and Google when they suspended a voting app

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2021-09-25 20:30:04

Telegram gives its users more freedom of speech than any other popular mobile application. Unlike other apps, Telegram can't be pressured by shareholders, cloud providers or advertisers into unjustified censorship. 

Telegram doesn't exist in isolation, however. It depends on other companies to function, from banks and telecoms to Apple and Google. The latter are particularly important, because Telegram – like all mobile apps – has to follow rules set by Apple and Google in order to remain available to users on iOS and Android.

This year Google and Apple started to require that apps like Telegram comply with local laws in the countries where they operate. Some laws (like surveillance laws) are incompatible with human rights, and we have never been pressured by the OS developers because of ignoring them. Some other laws, mostly related to publicly available content, are considered legitimate by Apple and Google, so we have to follow suit every time they enforce them in their ecosystems.

An example of this occurred last week, when Apple and Google banned a Russian voting app due to local laws. The app offered tactical voting advice, directing most of its users to vote for the communist party in the Russian parliamentary elections last weekend. This voting app also existed for months as a Telegram bot, and despite thousands of reports and requests to take it down, we let it remain available. After the election started, however, both Google and Apple removed the app from their app stores, explaining that it violated local laws against interfering with elections – and that it was the developers’ responsibility to ensure compliance. Within 24 hours, Telegram was forced to follow the stores’ policies and temporarily suspend the bot for the 2 remaining days of the election. 

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