Telegram, Apple, Belarus, and Conflating ‘Irrelevance’ With ‘Inconvenience’

Telegram CEO Pavel Durov has been writing about a controversy that I think is fairly summarized as follows: Pro-democracy protestors in Belarus have been using Telegram to (among many other purposes, of course) post information about those who stole the recent election for President Aleksandr Lukashenko. Apple asked Telegram to delete certain posts on the grounds that the posts revealed personal information contrary to App Store rules for “user generated content”.

Durov originally claimed Apple was asking Telegram to shut down certain channels; Apple says no, they’re just asking for specific posts to be taken down; but Durov says such posts are the entire point of said channels, so effectively Apple is asking Telegram to take down the channels. This whole issue of Apple injecting itself into the internal policing of a third-party social network is complicated, to say the least.

But at a second level, it’s not complicated. Durov:

Previously, when removing posts at Apple’s request, Telegram replaced those posts with a notice that cited the exact rule limiting such content for iOS users. However, Apple reached out to us a while ago and said our app is not allowed to show users such notices because they were “irrelevant”.

Similarly, when Facebook wanted to inform its users that 30% of the fees users were paying for online events went to Apple, Apple didn’t let Facebook do it saying this information was (once more) “irrelevant”.

I strongly disagree with Apple’s definition of “irrelevant”. I think the reason certain content was censored or why the price is 30% higher is the opposite of irrelevant.

This has nothing to do with relevance and everything to do with convenience. I’ve said it before and will adamantly say it again: it is prima facie wrong that one of the rules of the App Store is that an app is not allowed to explain the rules of the App Store. I’m hard pressed to think of an exception to this conviction, not just on Apple’s App Store, but in any sphere of life — whether a harmless game or the administration of the law.