Apple faces criticism for censoring LGBTQ+ apps on the App Store in 152 countries

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Apple is facing criticism for removing LGBTQ+ applications from the App Store in 152 countries around the world. A new joint study from US-based advocacy group Fight for the Future and China-based GreatFire, which tracks censorship in China, details that Apple’s decisions in these countries “enables government censorship of LGBTQ+ content.”

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. 

The study was highlighted in a report from Protocol today. Among the findings in the study is that the App Store in China has removed 27 LGBTQ+-related applications, either at the request of the Chinese government or preemptively. Saudi Arabia is the App Store with the most LGBTQ+-related applications unavailable, missing 28 apps.

Benjamin Ismail, GreatFire’s campaign and advocacy director and Apple Censorship project coordinator, told Protocol that even though China is known for widespread and pervasive censorship, it’s surprising that the country bans more LGBTQ+-related apps on the App Store than countries that criminalize homosexuality.

One thing to note is that just because an application is unavailable in a specific country doesn’t mean that it was removed by Apple. Ismail confirmed to Protocol, however, that the GreatFire study “didn’t count apps that were removed by their developers.” That is, the apps and figures referenced in the study are purely for applications removed by Apple.

Here are the high-level findings cited by the Fight for the Future study:

Saudi Arabia is the App Store with the 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. 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.

The study also points to the “least available” LGBTQ+ apps available globally:

weBelong – Find Your Community (unavailable in 144 App Stores) Hinge: Dating & Relationships (unavailable in 135 App Stores) Qutie – LGBT Dating (unavailable in 115 App Stores) Adam4Adam Gay Dating Chat A4A (unavailable in 80 App Stores) Trans – Transgender Dating (unavailable in 77 App Stores)

You can find the full study on the Fight for the Future website and read more at Protocol.

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