Encrypted messaging app Telegram is feeling the squeeze out of Russia, where regulators are not letting up in their ongoing attempts to block the app because its publishers refuse to provide regulators with access to messages on the platform. Pavel Durov has announced that Telegram app for iOS is no longer updating after the iOS 11.4 update this week: the updates are being “prevented” by Apple after the regulator ordered Apple to remove Telegram from the App Store, and that has also meant that Telegram has not been able to issue its GDPR update to comply with the new European regulations. For now, Telegram is still in the App Store, albeit with an out-of-date, non-GDPR-compliant version of the app.
The news caps off what has been a troubling week for Telegram. Days ago, the Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor (RKN) announced that it had made a formal request to Apple to stop distributing the app in the country, and also to stop enabling push notifications for those who already have the app downloaded. And that appears to be what is now transpiring.
Durov’s full statement, plus some more context below that:
“Unfortunately, some Telegram features, such as stickers, don’t work correctly under iOS 11.4 that was just released – even though we fixed this issue weeks ago,” Durov wrote minutes ago in his Telegram channel.
“Apple has been preventing Telegram from updating its iOS apps globally ever since the Russian authorities ordered Apple to remove Telegram from the App Store. Russia banned Telegram on its territory in April because we refused to provide decryption keys for all our users’ communications to Russia’s security agencies. We believe we did the only possible thing, preserving the right of our users to privacy in a troubled country.
“Unfortunately, Apple didn’t side with us. While Russia makes up only 7% of Telegram’s userbase, Apple is restricting updates for all Telegram users around the world since mid-April. As a result, we’ve also been unable to fully comply with GDPR for our EU-users by the deadline of May 25, 2018. We are continuing our efforts to resolve the situation and will keep you updated.
“Sorry for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience.”
Notably, for now it seems that the app — an older version of it — is still available in the App Store. Apple, according to a report this week, has one month from May 28 to comply with a request to remove it completely. It’s not clear what the consequences would be if it failed to do so.
“We sent them [Apple] a legally binding letter and are awaiting their legally binding reply. Because Apple, like other transnational companies, is a company with a high degree of red tape, we expect the reply within a month,” RKN’s head Alexander Zharov said to Russian news agency Interfax.
RKN has been seeking to shut down use of Telegram in the country for months, but for most of that time Telegram has been working around the issue by appealing to people to use VPNs to access the service, and also by hopping around IPs at hosting companies sympathetic to its attempt to continue offering its service without sharing data with Russian authorities. Its hopping had the unintended consequence of RKN knocking out entire swathes of IP addresses to stop Telegram, some 19 million at its peak, causing a number of other services to go down as well.
Surprisingly, it looked like several of the key cloud hosting companies such as Google and Amazon’s AWS had decided to hold firm to see how things would develop, even when their own consumer-facing services were suffering.
So it seemed logical that RKN would turn to app store operators to turn the screws further, with Apple, it seems, the first to go down, specifically with regards to updating the app in the App Store.
We are contacting Apple for further comment, and also Google to see if the Play Store is also being affected, and we will update this post as we learn more.
More to come.