Apple ‘enabling government censorship’ of LGBT+ apps around the world, report alleges

Apple App Store

Apple has been accused of enabling the widespread censorship of LGBT+ apps in 152 different countries in a damning new report.

The tech giant came under fire after the release of a joint study from US-based advocacy group Fight for the Future and China-based GreatFire, which tracks censorship in China.

Together they discovered 1,377 alleged cases of app access restrictions in 152 App Stores around the world, with the most blocked apps being weBelong, Hinge, Qutie, Adam4Adam and #open ENM + Polyamorous Dating.

Six out of the top 10 App Stores with censored LGBT+ content are in Sub-Saharan Africa, the study said, and the vast majority of countries where apps are blocked corresponded with poor human rights scores for the LGBT+ community.

The country with the highest number of unavailable apps was found to be Saudi Arabia at 28, closely followed by mainland China at 27 and the United Arab Emirates at 25.

“This is a matter of life and death for many queer and trans people around the world, who often find community and safety through these apps,” said Utsav Gandhi, campaigner and researcher with Fight for the Future.

“It’s unacceptable for Apple to continue this business practice, which is fundamentally incompatible with basic human rights and safety for LGBTQ+ people.”

App Store censorship is ‘only the tip of the iceberg’ for Apple

In a statement to the tech site Protocol, Apple claimed that the report contains some inaccuracies, and that none of the 27 apps mentioned in the report in regards to China were removed by Apple.

An app being unavailable in one country doesn’t necessarily mean that Apple censored it, the statement said, as it could also be the case that the developer consciously decided not to make it available in that country.

However, GreatFire’s campaign and advocacy director Benjamin Ismail explained to Protocol that their research didn’t count some apps that were removed by their developers, and said that “the highest probability is that it was Apple [that] decided to remove the app.”

“The results we have obtained after conducting several thousand tests are damning,” he said.

“They are, however, only the tip of the iceberg of Apple’s censorship of its App Store. Apple’s biannual ‘Transparency Reports’ and the recently published ‘Human Rights Policy’ appear to be just a smokescreen for investors, and only aim to improve Apple’s image.

“We know that many countries have hostile policies and laws towards their LGBTQ+ communities, but by enabling this shameful discrimination, Apple’s responses to its obligations to comply with local law are yet another smokescreen.”

Evan Greer, director of Fight for the Future, accused Apple of “plastering rainbow flags” in its US marketing while “actively helping governments around the world isolate, silence and oppress LGBTQ+ people”.

“Apple may claim that blocking apps where LGBTQ+ people can find community and safety is just the ‘cost of doing business’ in repressive countries, but the fact is that Apple’s draconian App Store monopoly – especially its decision to prevent users from installing apps from the open web to maintain control and profits – makes this discrimination and censorship possible,” she said.

PinkNews has reached out to Apple for further comment.