Ukraine’s Minister for Foreign Affairs has lashed out at Apple over its decision to depict the disputed peninsula of Crimea as belonging to Russia — when Apple Maps is viewed by users in Russia.
In a tweet, Vadym Prystaiko said that Apple should stick to “high-tech and entertainment. Global politics is not your strong side”.
Elaborating on the tweet, Prystaiko likened the Crimea situation to someone stealing Apple’s “design [and] ideas”.
— Vadym Prystaiko (@VPrystaiko) November 27, 2019
The United States’ Ukrainian embassy also chimed in on the situation. “We guess Ukrainians not giving any thanks to @Apple this #Thanksgiving,” it wrote on Twitter. “So let’s all remind Apple that #CrimeaIsUkraine and it is under Russian occupation – not its sovereignty”.
Apple Maps’ Crimea decision
Strong reactions are understandable. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, seizing control of government buildings. Russia was removed from the G8 as a result of the annexation. It also had various sanctions put in place against it. The issue remains an ongoing one.
Apple’s decision to alter the map (literally) so as to show Crimea as part of Russian territory was made in compliance with a request from Russian lawmakers. Apple initially offered to show Crimea as an undefined territory. It also made changes to two cities, Sevastopol and Simferopol. This was at the request of the State Duma, Russia’s lower parliament.
The changes are only visible when viewing Apple Maps inside Russia. Elsewhere, it does not show Crimea as being Russian territory.
Complying with local laws
This isn’t the first time that Apple has been asked to change its services to reflect controversial standards around the world. For instance, in China Apple has long banned the Taiwanese flag emoji. Dating back to the start of 2017, iOS banished the Taiwanese flag emoji whenever an iPhone’s location was set to China.
In both China and Russia, Apple has shifted some user data over to local servers. In Russia, this was made as part of compliance with a local law which came into effect in 2015. Similar laws were implemented in China in 2018, resulting in the migration of China-based iCloud accounts to a server operated by a Chinese company.
Navigating the complex world of geopolitics is a challenge for many tech giants. People who work for them may well hold certain political opinions. But when it comes to reflecting certain contentious issues like land ownership it’s often a choice of “go with it” or risk being banned.