Apple Is Letting Over 150 Countries Censor LGBTQ+ Content In The App Store

Despite its rainbow branding for Pride Month, the company's App Store is blocking queer dating and news apps around the world.
June 16, 2021, 1:00pm
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Image: Getty Images

A group of tech researchers and activists has released a new report that says that many LGBTQ+ apps are available in some countries but not others; they have identified LGBTQ+ apps that are not available in 152 different countries.

In a statement about their findings, the digital rights group Fight for the Future said that over 50 LGBTQ+ apps have been made unavailable in the App Stores internationally. This isn't limited to apps like Grindr or other explicitly gay dating apps—OkCupid and Hinge have also been censored in 26 and 135 countries, respectively. Even some games are included in this list, like the dating sim Lovestruck: Choose Your Romance, which isn't available in China's App Store. 

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The app weBelong, a social media app for teenagers who want to meet like-minded teens, has been blocked in the most App Stores—it's unavailable in 144 of the 152 countries affected. Saudi Arabia and China topped the list of countries with the most LGBTQ+ apps blocked, with 28 and 27 blocked apps, respectively.

A spokesperson for Apple told Motherboard that in many cases the developers of the app themselves have opted to not make an app available in specific countries. In China specifically, Apple says that it has removed none of the apps (the app developers themselves have, Apple said), and said that Scruff, a dating app for men seeking other men, is available in China. An Apple spokesperson told Motherboard that four of the apps of the 61 Fight for the Future monitored were removed from a country’s App Store for specific legal reasons.

But places like France and the United Kingdom are also on the list of countries that have made apps unavailable in their countries' respective App Stores. This can happen for a variety of reasons: Some apps have been deleted because they are "illegal" according to the local laws in some countries; they are deleted or made unavailable so that Apple and/or the app developer remains in compliance with that country's laws and can continue doing business in those countries. In some cases, Apple removes the apps from the App Store in some countries. In other cases, app developers themselves make the app available in some countries but not others.

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According to Fight for the Future's findings, the app for the queer news outlet Edge has been removed from the App Store in Brazil, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, United Arab Emirates.

"I think we were generally more surprised to see 'entertainment' and 'games' apps censored as those can be considered as less 'sensitive," Ustav Gandhi, campaigner and researcher with Fight for the Future told Motherboard. "Our colleague at [Chinese anti-censorship group] GreatFire said he was also surprised by the removal of the Edge Media app, as it's categorized as News."

"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," Evan Greer, director of Fight for the Future, said in the group's statement. "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."

Fight for the Future went on to say that beyond just censorship, LGBTQ+ people use these apps to find safe communities in countries where they have few legal protections. And while Apple may believe that this is just the cost of doing business in countries that discriminate against LGBTQ+ people, the company's  policies make this censorship possible—especially its long-standing practice of not allowing people to download and install apps from outside the App Store.

"Their failure to allow for this is what is making the discrimination and censorship possible," Sarah Roth-Gaudette, executive director of Fight for the Future, told Motherboard.

This article has been updated with more information from Apple.