Apple is enabling censorship of LGBTQ+ apps in 152 countries, new report finds

As LGBTQ+ people around the world celebrate Pride Month, new report from Fight for the Future and GreatFire shows how Apple’s App Store monopoly enables government crackdowns on LGBTQ+ content

To view the full results and methodology, click here.

New findings from United States-based Fight for the Future and China-based GreatFire reveal that Apple has been enabling government censorship of LGBTQ+ content, most directly 1,377 documented cases of app access restrictions, in 152 App Stores around the world. Moreover, at least 50 LGBTQ+ apps, including the majority of the most popular ones, are currently unavailable in one or more App Stores. Most of the App Stores where the most number of apps are blocked, coincide with countries already low on the list for human rights for the queer community. Underscoring Apple’s role in enabling this censorship is cases such as Malaysia, whose government criminalizes homosexuality but where only 7 LGBTQ+ apps are removed from its App Store; or Niger and South Korea, whose governments have legalized homosexuality, but whose App Stores are within the top 10 with most unavailable LGBTQ+ apps. 

Other high level findings include: 

  • Saudi Arabia is the App Store with most LGBTQ+ related apps unavailable (28 apps) followed by China (27). 
  • 6 out of the top 10 App Stores with censored LGBTQ+ content are in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The least available LGBTQ+ apps, globally, are: 
    • weBelong – Find Your Community (unavailable in 144 App Stores)
    • Hinge: Dating & Relationships (unavailable in 135 App Stores)
    • #open ENM + Polyamorous Dating (unavailable in 125 App Stores)
    • Qutie – LGBT Dating (unavailable in 115 App Stores)
    • Adam4Adam Gay Dating Chat A4A (unavailable in 80 App Stores)
  • Among the top 20 LGBTQ+ Apps (as identified in the U.S. App Store), 13 are unavailable in one or more countries, including the top 3: Grindr, Taimi and OkCupid. The majority of these most popular apps are unavailable in more than 20 countries.

“Apple is plastering rainbow flags across their marketing operation in the U.S., but in the meantime they are actively helping governments around the world isolate, silence, and oppress LGBTQ+ people,” said Evan Greer (she/her), Director of Fight for the Future and a transgender musician and writer based in Boston. “Apple may claim that blocking apps where LGBTQ+ people can find community and safety is just the ‘cost of doing business’ in repressive countries, but the fact is that Apple’s draconian App Store monopoly — especially its decision to prevent users from installing apps from the open web to maintain control and profits — makes this discrimination and censorship possible.”

“The results we have obtained after conducting several thousand tests are damning. They are, however, only the tip of the iceberg of Apple’s censorship of its App Store,” said Benjamin Ismail (he/him), GreatFire’s Campaign & Advocacy Director and AppleCensorship project coordinator. “Apple’s biannual “Transparency Reports” and the recently published “Human Rights Policy” appear to be just a smokescreen for investors, and only aim to improve Apple’s image. We know that many countries have hostile policies and laws towards their LGBTQ+ communities, but by enabling this shameful discrimination, Apple’s responses to its obligations to comply with local law are yet another smokescreen.”

There are 1 billion iPhone users around the world who cannot choose the apps to install on the phones they own. In 2008, Apple made the unprecedented decision to limit iPhone users to running software approved and distributed through their App Store. If a government demands an app’s removal from the App Store and if Apple complies, it is near impossible to install an app on an iPhone through another mechanism. If Apple, like Google’s Android, allowed installations from the open web, there would be no conflict with local law, but Apple isn’t doing this in order to protect its monopoly and the stream of free money it extorts from app developers.

“This is a matter of life and death for many queer and trans people around the world, who often find community and safety through these apps,” added Utsav Gandhi (he/him), Campaigner with Fight for the Future. “It’s unacceptable for Apple to continue this business practice, which is fundamentally incompatible with basic human rights and safety for LGBTQ+ people.”
Fight for the Future urges readers to visit abolishtheappstore.org to read more about Apple’s App Store monopoly and demand that lawmakers further investigate its implications for access to content.

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