June 1, 2018 / 10:24 PM / 16 days ago

Apple approves update to messaging app Telegram amid Russia flap

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Apple has approved an updated version of the Telegram messaging service, a day after Telegram complained that it had been prevented from getting software improvements into the hands of iPhone owners worldwide.

FILE PHOTO: A customer stands underneath an illuminated Apple logo as he looks out the window of the Apple store located in central Sydney, Australia, May 28, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo

Telegram Chief Executive Pavel Durov announced the turnabout on Twitter, thanking Apple and CEO Tim Cook for getting the latest Telegram version “to millions of users, despite the recent setbacks.”

On Thursday, Durov had said Apple had refused to allow updates in its App Store since April. Apple has thus far resisted a Russian order that month to remove the application from the store entirely, and the update delay sparked concern that Apple was moving to appease authorities there.

Without an update, not all Telegram features worked on the latest iPhone software, and Telegram also said it was running afoul of new European data privacy laws.

If the ban had become permanent, Telegram would have grown unsafe over time as security flaws were discovered but unable to be patched through the normal update process.

Neither Apple nor Telegram explained the reason for the prior lack of approval or for the reversal. On Friday, Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

Apple’s control over the applications in its store enables it to inspect and approve or disapprove of every new version, including updates that fix minor technical issues. If it does not approve an updated version of the software, it cannot be distributed through the App Store.

“Russia banned Telegram on its territory in April because we refused to provide decryption keys for all our users’ communications to Russia’s security agencies,” Durov said Thursday. Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said it needed to guard against security threats.

After Russia’s decision to block the popular messaging service, protest rallies in Moscow against what demonstrators called internet censorship drew thousands. Telegram is challenging the block in Russian courts.

Governments have stepped up pressure on technology companies to more actively police content in more forms, including applications.

In China, Apple recently banned Virtual Private Network applications and removed the New York Times from its digital marketplace.

Apple has said publicly that it would notify developers when applications were removed at a government’s request, that it would limit takedowns to specific countries when possible, and that beginning in the second half of this year it would note in periodic transparency reports the number of requests for application removals.

None of that would necessarily cover restrictions on updates.

Reporting by Joseph Menn in San Francisco, additional reporting by Jack Stubbs in London

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