Apple has removed several Iranian apps from its App Store over US sanctions, triggering a major backlash from app developers and government officials of the country.
The crackdown, which came over last few weeks, has seen the removal of some popular Iranian apps including Snapp and DelionFoods, an Uber-like ride hailing app and a food delivery service, respectively.
"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 said in a message to developers affected by its sudden crackdown.
"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".
A company official confirmed the viability of the message to New York Times but did not elaborate anything beyond that.
Against its global reputation, Apple has no official presence in the Islamic republic. Current US sanctions restrict the flow of money from Tehran to Washington, which is why the tech giant has resorted to not selling phones or apps in the country. The ban, however, has not kept Iranians from working their ways around. Nearly 48 million iPhones have been smuggled from countries like Hong Kong and Dubai and fed with locally developed apps on app stores available outside Iran.
Apple's crackdown against Iranian apps began early this year with a call to take down payment options that could bring Iranian money into US territory in violation of the sanctions. But, soon Iran switched to its own payment mechanism - Shaparak, cash and other modes of payment. Several media outlets have reported the company also prevented Iranian developers from updating their apps.
All these moves including the latest have triggered a storm of criticism from Iranian developers, business owners, and government officials. People have voiced their frustration using hashtag #StopRemovingIranianApps on Twitter, with thousands signing a Change.org petition addressed to Apple CEO Tim Cook.
Mahdi Taghizadeh, founder of DelionFoods Tweeted:
Similarly, Iran's newly appointed telecom minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi also voiced his opinion on the issue, with a Persian language Tweet saying, "Respecting customer rights is a principle today that Apple hasn't abided by. We will legally pursue the omission of apps."
It is also worth noting that Google – Apple's biggest competitor – has not imposed any restrictions on downloading and accessing apps on Android, as long as they do not involve purchases.