In the month of November 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed legislation, which would require all smartphones, tablets, computers, Smart TV and Set-Top boxes sets sold in the country to come pre-installed with Russian software. The law would be effective from 1 July 2020. The idea behind passing this law is to help Russian IT firms compete with foreign companies such as Samsung, Apple, and Huawei as well as spare users from the hassle of downloading software upon purchasing a new device.
It would also offer consumers more domestic alternatives and would be a boost to the Russian Tech firms. Preloading the devices would provide the government with a plethora of information about the users. The information could include private communications, location, or even finances. The legislation also contends that the smart devices which do not pre-install the Russian Software’s would be banned. In other words, it has put the U.S. tech giant Apple against the new legislation.
The timeline suggested by the Federal Antimonopoly Service:
- Pre-installation for all smartphones with Russian software will become mandatory from 1st July 2020.
- All tablets must be pre-installed with Russian software. It will become mandatory from 2021.
- Pre-installation for all computers with Russian software will become mandatory from 2022.
- All Smart TV and Set-Top Boxes should have Russian software. This will become mandatory from 2023.
The motives behind this bill could be to prevent the dominance of the western technology sold within the country or could be about surveillance and control just like the recent Sovereign Internet Law facilitating the cut-off from the World Wide Web in case of an emergency.
A list of the applications which need to be pre-installed has been released by the Russian Federal Antimonopoly Service which includes applications developed by the Russian government for payment of taxes and fines, bank services, navigation apps, and social media platforms linked to official bodies. These applications can collect and submit financial details, location, private and confidential communications, and more information without the consent & knowledge of the user.
Why is it called the Law against Apple?
The legislation has a great impact especially on the tech giant Apple since it forbids the preinstalling of third-party apps onto its system’s hardware. It is believed that the legislation could negatively affect market growth and can cause the industry to be monopolized. Once the law goes into effect, Apple would be forced to quit the country unless it complies. This piece of legislation, along with the construction of a “Sovereign Internet,” has brought Apple into direct conflict with the autocratic Russian President1.
To follow the new legislation it would require rebuilding Apple’s existing operating system, moreover, it would go against Apple’s principle of honoring user privacy over the interests of federal governments.
Yielding to the demands of Russia would become a precedent. As a result, Apple would have to yield to the demands of other countries as well. The interests of Russia lie in attempting to regulate its people autocratically. But, this seems to be in contradiction to Apple’s policies. It is against Apple’s commitment to protecting the privacy of its users.
Artem Kozlyuk a digital rights activist, founder of the NGO Roskomsvoboda showed his disagreement by opposing the law. He stated that devices are already stuffed with a huge number of services. These services can secretly collect information. According to him, the legislation is more dangerous. Moreover, users have neither knowledge nor control over which data are collected and used by the Russian government.
Russia’s intent on deploying a digital curtain and moving towards a restricted and controlled technology market. This is something we should be worried about since the stakes would be very high. The inevitable incorporation of mass surveillance into the network is a terrifying change and this initiative would lead to a decrease in user data protection. However, the July deadline for ‘Apple’ legislation would require Apple CEO Tim Cook, to set a precedent for global international relations, privacy, and digital sovereignty by either placing future revenues at risk or defending Apple’s values.
Akanksha Shah | Pravin Gandhi College of Law, Mumbai