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Russia's App Store vs. China's App Store
2023-03-22 12:24

AppleCensorship publishes a report investigating Russia’s App Store further. By comparing Russia’s App Store with China’s App Store, AppleCensorships seeks to provide information on the specificity and the extent of Russia’s App Store censorship. 

On December 22, 2022, AppleCensorship released a report highlighting Apple’s censorship of its Russia’s App Store and the company’s many compromises with the authorities which have impacted freedom of information and expression in the country.

The report investigates Russia’s App Store, where many LGBTQ+ related apps are blocked.

Read the December 2022 report:United Apple: Apple’s censorship and compromises in Russia

Based on data collected from 2019 until the end of 2022 and tests on more than 15,000 apps, the report highlighted the following facts:

  • Patterns of app removals from Russia’s App Store detected by the App Store Monitor (ASM) suggest that specific groups of apps have been targeted by the Russian authorities and that a system of Apple-enforced targeted censorship is in place in Russia’s App Store.
  • LGBTQ+ related apps constitute the most prominent type of apps being unavailable in Russia’s App Store, with at least 25 apps currently unavailable, including some of the most popular LGBTQ+ apps in the world.
  • More than 30 VPN and private browsing apps have been taken down since the start of the war in Ukraine, while the Russian authorities were announcing that “measures were being taken to limit access to VPN services that violate Russian law”.
  • Although Russia’s App Store does not reflect the ongoing crackdown on online information led by the Russian government, the list of unavailable apps continues to grow as the App Store Monitor unveils new instances of apps’ unavailability or removals from Russia’s App Store.

Goals of the survey

Following up on the report published in December last year, which pointed to an increase of removals since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, this study aims at investigating Russia’s App Store further. Comparing Russia’s App Store with China’s App Store can help us assess if some apps or categories of apps are considered as sensitive apps/content for both countries, in addition to providing an indication on the extent of Russia’s App Store censorship and on its ratio of apps’ unavailability.


Between December 23 and December 26, 2022, the App Store Monitor’s routine scan of the 175 App Stores operated by Apple worldwide, was interrupted and replaced by the following instructions:

1. We checked all the apps unavailable in mainland China’s App Store, in Russia’s App Store:

By the end of 2022, more than 38,000 apps had been tested in China’s App Store, while around 20,000 apps had been tested in Russia’s App Store. Since the ASM does not maintain a list of all apps tested in a given App Store, It is impossible to conduct identical tests in both App Stores. However, it is possible to test unavailable apps from a given App Store, in another App Store. By doing so, we not only obtain further data on apps which were possibly unavailable due to censorship (i.e. sensitive apps), but also increase the comparability between the two App Stores, decreasing the risk of discrepancies due to one App Store having more relevant apps tested for availability than the other.

2. We tested availability of all the apps unavailable in Russia’s App Store, in China’s App Store:

By repeating the same process in reverse, we strengthen further the data set, reaching a satisfying level of comparability which allows us to look into specific categories of apps in more detail.

3. Comparing the App Stores, and identify potential trends in terms of unavailable apps’ categories, content and function.

After both batteries of tests, we can export the data and start analyzing it. We try to identify if China’s App Store and Russia’s App Store each have their own specific types of unavailable apps or if the shared unavailability of some apps have significance or are merely incidental.


1. Testing each other’s unavailable apps and augmenting comparability

Click here to see all the data on unavailable apps in Russia's App Store and China's App Store


We started by testing apps from China’s list of unavailable apps in Russia’s App Store, as the latter had much fewer apps tested. After all 10,481 apps were tested, Russia’s list of unavailable apps did not change significantly. Although it appears that, out of the 10,481 apps from China’s list of unavailable apps, around 3,600 had never been tested in Russia’s App Store, only 507 new unavailable apps were recorded, indicating that the vast majority of “new” apps tested in Russia’s App Store were available. This even led to a slight decrease of the unavailability percentage of 0.56% from 17.75% to 17.19%. Very few “local apps” have been added to Russia’s list (only 39) which confirms that “local apps” constitute a small part of China’s list of unavailable apps. This is also due to Russia’s App Store having recorded a significant number of unavailable local Chinese apps (apps only available in China’s App Store).

The movements that are observed in China’s App Store after the series of tests are attributed to external users which continue to use the website to test new apps, as well as to additional tests run by the App Store Monitor, as the algorithm extends its testing in more App Stores when encountering apps which test unavailable in a given App Store.


We subsequently tested apps unavailable in Russia’s App Store, to verify their availability in China’s App Store. We were aiming at equalizing the data set with this step rather than exploring the availability of apps from Russia’s list, as most of them had already been tested in China’s App Store. However, the addition of 689 new apps out of which 183 were found to be unavailable, came as a surprise and is significant enough to be noted.

2. China’s App Store vs. Russia’s App Store

Similar unavailable apps

In order to identify apps which were unavailable in both App Stores, we aggregated the two lists and looked for duplicate apps. In total, we found 2,926 apps.


Looking at the aggregated list in more detail, we can sort apps by category and see if certain types of apps are more often blocked by one or the other App Store.

Some categories are composed of a majority of apps that are blocked in both App Stores. 66% to 86% of the apps which belong to the “Food & Drink”, “Shopping”, “Medical”, “Sports”, “Weather” and "Navigation” categories, are unavailable in both Russia and China’s App Stores.

These high percentages could have been interpreted as an indication that these categories, which usually do not include sensitive content, are not subjected to targeted censorship but rather contain apps that are unavailable in multiple App Stores for reasons other than censorship. However, the presence of the “Shopping” category in the list, which we know contain many apps that were specifically removed by their owners from Russia’s App Store after the start of the war in Ukraine in February 2022, comes as a contradiction to this interpretation. See our report “United Apple: Apple’s censorship and compromises in Russia for more information on the unavailability of apps from the Shopping category.



Categories with the smallest proportion of apps unavailable in both App Stores include:

Developer Tools (0.00%) ; Book (10.06%) ; Education (12.30%) ; Games (13.45%) ; Stickers (14.29%) ; Reference (14.53%) ; Magazines & Newspapers (15.15%) ; Productivity (19.80%) ; Photo & Video (20.78%) ; News (26.62%)

In each case, China’s App Store list has significantly more apps than Russia’s App Store list:

Developer Tools (Cn: 7 ; Ru: 2) ; Book (Cn: 262 ; Ru: 15) ; Education (Cn: 327 ; Ru: 58) ; Games (Cn: 4943 ; Ru: 294) ; Stickers (Cn:6 ; Ru: 0) ; Reference (Cn: 84 ; Ru: 16) ; Magazines & Newspapers (Cn: 25 ; Ru: 3) ; Productivity (Cn: 284 ; Ru: 44) ; Photo & Video (Cn: 79 ; Ru: 43) ; News (Cn: 176 ; Ru: 28)

Three categories stand out from this list: Book, News and Productivity apps. News apps are widely unavailable in China, with 176 unavailable apps, a figure which consistently reflects China’s control of the press and information. Although Russia’s crackdown on press freedom has increased in the past year, this is not immediately evident in Russia’s iOS App Store.

China’s App Store has almost 20 times more Book apps than Russia’s App Store. As for Productivity apps, China’s categorical ban of VPN apps explains the difference, although Russia’s number of unavailable Productivity apps remains non-negligible. With 44 unavailable apps, Productivity ranks 9th in Russia’s App Store, in terms of unavailable apps.



When comparing most unavailable categories in each App Store, we can see immediately that Games and Utilities apps ranks first and second in both App Stores. Similarly, Stickers, Graphics & Design, Weather, Developer Tools and Navigation apps rank at the bottom of both App Stores.

Despite the fact that China’s App Store always has more unavailable apps than Russia, ranking categories by number of unavailable apps allows us to notice three categories that hold a particular position in Russia’s App Store. Contrary to China’s App Store, Lifestyle, Business and Shopping categories rank rather high in Russia’s App Store. If reasons are already put forward for the unavailability of apps belonging to the Shopping category, looking at Business and Lifestyle apps in detail reveals a significant number of Chinese owned apps in both App Stores. Rather than pointing at a targeted block in Russia’s App Store, this indicates that China’s App Store includes a number of apps only available in China and which, when tested in Russia’s App Store, were logically found unavailable, as they would have been in any App Store outside of China.

Monitoring censorship in Russia’s and China’s App Store

At the moment, Russia’s App Store does not seem to be concerned by categorical bans. However, it has already been established that certain types of apps, spread across various categories, such as LGBTQ+ related apps, are subjects of widespread unavailability. Monitoring of Russia’s App Store in the future thus needs to be conducted by using ad hoc categories of apps or apps related to specific keywords (such as “LGBTQ+”, “human rights”) as well as by identifying individual apps (ex: U.S. media apps, popular VPN apps, etc.) and apps’ developers (ex: political opposition leader Navalny’s apps), in order to detect more efficiently future app removals ordered by Roskomnadzor and enforced by Apple.

Additionally, while China’s App Store remains the most severely censored App Store worldwide, and continues to require constant and widespread monitoring, the present study suggests that there could be an interest in looking at apps which are released only in China’s App Store, and sometimes in other Chinese-speaking territories such as Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and Singapore, in order to better understand China’s strategy for information control and apps which aim at replacing the void left by the widespread removal of categories of apps and specific content.


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