In Iran, the reality of the sanctions imposed on the government can be quite sobering. They affect access to many basic things which some of us may take for granted: food, and medical supplies and services. However, there are some areas like tech, until recently, where maneuvering around the restrictions had been less of a challenge.
Another blow came this week when Apple—taking a cue from the US government—moved forward with its decision to remove from its app stores a number of Iranian apps, after a fresh new round of sanctions were imposed by the US government.
This move comes only a couple years after Apple had begun efforts to expand its business and product lines in Iran, and all parties involved felt optimistic about this new cooperation and a relaxing of the heavy sanctions against the country. Though the company did not have stores in Iran, iOS users were able to benefit from the apps using mobile devices smuggled into the country through various channels.
So, which apps are being removed? Well, just last Thursday Apple removed Snap, a ride hailing app similar to Uber in the US. Also, within the past few days Delion Foods, online food delivery service similar to Yemek Sepeti in Turkey, was also removed. Company founder Mahdi Taghizadeh expressed his frustration with the drastic move:
“We work so hard, and have to fight all the time, and now this,” adding, “No one with an iPhone can download any of the popular apps any more. Imagine if the U.S. you wouldn’t be able to get Uber on your phone.”
Toeing the Line
The statements made by Apple in the past few days reflect its efforts to remain neutral in the dispute, despite the strong reactions from business developers in Iran. One of the first responses to the decision was a petition to Apple CEO Tim Cook—signatures have reached more than 11,000, and in social media, others have taken to Twitter with the hashtag #StopRemovingIranianApps.
In an official statement, a spokesperson for Apple said, “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.”
The company’s shares in the global market are too high to turn away such a large customer base, and taking a neutral stance is its way of leaving the door open for future partnerships.
The reality is that Apple has had to engage in gray market activities in order to maintain its position and at the same time comply with global trade procedures, which means working in countries in which stores do not exist or only iOS software or apps, in lieu of mobile devices, can be purchased.
What is clear for now is that Iran’s future with Apple is uncertain.