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Russian rules for mobile devices criticised by Apple

President Vladimir Putin signed a law requiring mobile devices sold in Russia to have Russian software pre-installed, sparking indignation from Apple.

Putin's law quickly passed through Russia's Parliament and was rubber-stamped on Monday. It will come into effect in July 2020.

In the meantime, the Kremlin will prepare a list of Russian apps which will need to be pre-installed on the devices. The list of devices is likely to include computers, tablets and smartphones, as well as smart TVs and wearables. Companies which ignore the law will be fined approximately $3,100.

The law has been characterised by its supporters as a means of helping Russian tech companies compete with foreign companies – which often have their software pre-installed on these devices – and preventing Russian consumers from having to download native software when setting up a new device.

Russia’s phone market is dominated by the world’s largest smartphone manufacturers: America’s Apple, South Korea’s Samsung and China’s Huawei. According to Oleg Nikolayev, who authored the legislation, many Russian consumers may not be aware of the Russian alternatives to pre-installed foreign apps.

However, critics have expressed concern that the law will make it much harder to avoid unwanted software (bloatware), potentially including spyware.

Foreign tech companies have criticised the law, arguing that it was introduced without consultation with them.

According to Russian media, Apple – which has traditionally taken a very cautious approach to bundling third-party apps on its devices – had previously threatened to withdraw from the Russian market if the law was passed. An Apple source recently told the Kommersant that: “A mandate to add third-party applications to Apple’s ecosystem would be equivalent to jailbreaking. It would pose a security threat and the company cannot tolerate that kind of risk.”

The Kremlin has adopted an increasingly tough stance on digital matters in the past few years, ruling that search engines must remove some search results, restricting access to the Telegram messaging app for refusing to share encryption keys with security agencies and requiring internet companies to store local user data in servers located in Russia.

Earlier this year, Russia fined and threatened to block Twitter and Facebook after the companies declined to move their data to Russian servers. LinkedIn has been blocked since 2016 and DailyMotion since 2017.

The Russian government has also been engaged in an ambitious to program to isolate the Russian internet from the rest of the internet by requiring telecommunications companies to re-route local domestic traffic through exchange points managed or approved by the telecommunications regulator. This project will protect Russian internet activity against interception, but also consolidates government control over online activity.

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