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Who controls App Store: Martians or AI? Closed session of Russia's Federation Council and Apple leaked online

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Video recording of a closed session of the upper house of Russia's parliament was leaked online by Telegram channel A000MP97. In the video, Andrei Klimov, head of the Ad Hoc Sovereignty and Preventing Interference in the Domestic Affairs Commission, demands Apple to disclose who controls the App Store: people from Mars or artificial intelligence?

On September 16th, a closed session of the Commission took place, and representatives of Apple and Google were among those who were invited. The session discussed ways to protect sovereignty of the country, in particular, the fact that the Navalny app was still available in Apple App Store and Google Play. The services were accused of being complicit with organisations deemed extremist and banned in Russia as well as interference with Russian elections.

Previously, the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, added to its demands threats of new fines for breaking Russian laws and even criminal liability. Apple's spokesperson answered that the company cannot put pressure on the App Store and make it remove the Navalny, an app banned in Russia. As Apple's lawyer explained, legal nuances prevent this from happening.

Closed captions are available for the video, click CC button in the player to access

There were no direct Apple employees at the session. As video leaked online shows, the company was represented by Sergei Voitishkin and Darya Yermolina, managing partners of a multinational law firm Baker McKenzie. Head of the commission demanded to explain the difference between Apple Inc. and Apple Distribution International, asked who finances the App Store and even inquired who controls the service — martians or AI.

Only app developers are responsible for app content, Voitishkin answered. He explained that any complaints about the content should be addressed to app developers only.

Yermolina answered Klimov's questions on App Store finance and structure. The service is operated by Apple's subsidiary — Apple Distribution International, she explained. While repeatedly interrupting her, the head of the commission then demanded to disclose who finances the platform and what rules it follows.

After a few questions Yermolina reiterated that Apple Distribution International is the one managing the App Store and Apple Inc. is the head company. Klimov asked whether the former is subordinate to any other organisation or if it acts independently. Yermolina said that she has no answer to that question yet.

Despite the fact Apple's spokespeople claimed there were no legal grounds to remove Navalny app from the App Store, the app was blocked in Russia the next day. Apple reasoned its decision the following way: “Apps must comply with all legal requirements in any location where you make them available. […] We note that the Prosecutor's Office of the City of Moscow have also determined that the app violates the legislation of the Russian Federation by enabling interference in elections.”

Additionally, users in Russia reported that Apple has restricted Private Relay functionality in the country. VPN services and apps with VPN functionality are a popular way to bypass website restrictions in Russia.

Russia's State Duma and Federation Council were satisfied with Apple's responsiveness.
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