Critics warn of Apple’s “chokepoint” repression

Google and Apple were under the microscope over their decision to launch a Russian opposition app

The global dominance of technology giants serves as a convenient online point for authoritarian governments to crack down on deviant or rigged choices, critics of Apple and Google said on Friday.

The companies faced international outrage after withdrawing a Russian opposition voting app from their online markets in response to the authorities’ escalating pressure, including arrest warrants.

“App stores are the new frontier for censorship,” Natalia Krapiva, technical legal adviser at the Access Now rights group, told AFP. “We are witnessing a new phase of digital rights abuses.”

The concern had recently been about consumers’ choices and the app developer’s ability to avoid paying Apple with up to a 30 percent cut on purchases made via the App Store.

“As long as Apple has a stranglehold on what software millions of people (use) … the App Store will continue to be a convenient choke point for government censorship and crackdown on dissent,” said Evan Greer, head of the digital influence group Fight for the Future.

But the same technology can be turned against humans, as demonstrated by the scandal surrounding Pegasus, a hugely invasive spyware program that can essentially turn a phone into a pocket listening device.

Allegations that the software has been used by governments around the world to eavesdrop on human rights activists, business leaders and politicians caused a global uproar in July.

“This sets the stage for Big Tech to resist dissent in dissent, in Russia and elsewhere, during and outside elections,” said David Levine, an election integrity member of the Alliance for Securing Democracy think tank.

Levine noted that this type of increasing pressure could become a “game book page” for repressive governments.

As a result, Big Tech can and will get entangled in this type of fight on sensitive issues with governments in places where they do business.

Especially for social media like Facebook, the role of information porter is one that companies have played with very different results.

“This is that the government is going into your house and saying you can not talk about voting against us,” said Isabel Linzer, a research analyst at NGO Freedom House.

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