Financial Tribune | Khosro Kalbasi: Local developers and technology-based businesses have started uploading their applications on alternative Android and iOS app markets en masse to counter a recent unprofessional move by Apple and Google which are removing Iranian apps from Play Store and App Store.
Using the locally established Android markets like Café Bazaar, Myket and Iran Apps has been popular with Iranians and now alternative iOS markets are also booming.
Two major alternative iOS markets in the country are Nassaab and SibApp.
SibApp offers free of charge services and many Iranian developers have already uploaded their apps on its servers.
Nassaab charges users 130,000 rials ($3) as registration fee. However, in addition to locally developed applications, the service provides Iranians with access to thousands of ‘hacked and cracked’ apps and enables them to use paid applications and games for free.
Since Iranians are banned from using US-based payment services they cannot purchase applications and games via conventional app stores.
Using alternative app stores is common in China and Russia because several services are not available in these two countries — some are blocked by the state and some removed by the foreign firms.
For instance, even before Google and every single of its services got blocked in China in 2014, that nation’s Android phone owners weren’t known fans of the official Google Play store. That prompted a billion-dollar industry in alternative Android app stores.
At first it was startups that filled the void created by the absence of Google Play, but eventually China’s tech titans emerged and now dominate Android app distribution just as they control so much else in the country’s online life.
The same can be said about Russia. Along with dozens of minor companies, Yandex —a major Russian multinational technology company specializing in Internet-related services and products — has its own app store.
Over the weekend Google removed applications of Iran’s two major ride-hailing businesses from its Android market. Local developers believe the company is poised to remove more applications in the coming days.
On August 19 Apple Inc. started removing applications of Iranian companies from the company’s iOS App Store. Later, a web hosting business in the Netherlands, Resello, stopped offering services to Iranians. Both companies cite “sanctions” as the reason for the move. Translation: All these companies with global reach are (understandably) fearful of US lethal power to ban them if they work with the Iranians and its senseless anti-Iran policy.
So far Google has not provided any official reason why the apps have been removed.
The company has also terminated Google Analytics accounts of several Iranian websites. Google Analytics is a web analytics service offered by the company that tracks and reports website traffic.
Several dozen Iranian webmasters have received vague messages from Google’s support team that name “terms of service violations” as the reason why the accounts have been terminated.
One of the messages reads as follows: “We regret to inform you that this Google Analytics account has been canceled due to terms of service violations.”
The message further says “the accounts cannot be restored, as they have been terminated indefinitely.”
Another message cites “violation of analytics Policies” as the reason. “It seems that your account has lost its access due to a violation of Analytics Policies.”
However, Google does not provide any further information on the reason for the suspension of the accounts. Furthermore, one of the emails states that the company has not even informed its employees on “what exact policy was violated [by the Iranian user]”.
The abrupt measures are likely the fruit of the Trump administration’s anti-Iran rhetoric. On July 18, the beleaguered government of President Donald Trump announced new Iran-related sanctions to demonstrate its tougher stance towards Tehran despite having grudgingly endorsed Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal with the six world powers.
Sanctions were jointly announced by the US departments of state, treasury and justice. While none of the official statements released by American companies refer to the ‘new’ sanctions as the reason for their change of heart, Apple’s statement says: “This area of law is complex and constantly changing,” indicating the company’s anxiety in offering services to Iranian businesses.
While the US government claims to be the champion of free speech, its unjustified sanctions have disrupted the free flow of information and harmed private enterprise in Iran. Fortunately such disruptive measures can be contained with the help of technology.