Apple takes down anonymous social media app Damus from China App Store


The app was banned over ‘illegal content’ and for failing a government security assessment, developers are told

Apple takes down anonymous social media app Damus from China App Store

Screenshot of Damus official website.

Apple’s China App Store has removed a Twitter-like social media app linked to Jack Dorsey’s Nostr social media platform, which relies on a decentralized network of users exchanging encrypted information to evade control or censorship by governments or private companies.

Damus was removed from the Apple China App Store a day after being launched there, the developers said via their Twitter account.

“We are writing to notify you that your application, per demand from the Cyberspace Administration of China, will be removed from the China App Store because it includes content that is illegal in China, which is not in compliance with the App Store review guidelines,” the App Store said in screenshot of the notification letter attached to Damus’ tweet.

According to the Cyberspace Administration, the app had failed a security assessment for apps having “public opinion” or “social mobilization” capabilities, the letter said.

Apple’s removal of apps from its Chinese app store that could empower users to get around the country’s strict censorship regime has sparked criticism from users and service providers before.

‘Must comply’

In October 2019, the company took down a hugely popular police-tracking app from its Hong Kong store after it was used by participants in the 2019 protest movement to evade arrest or police violence.

“Apps must comply with all legal requirements … it is your responsibility to understand and make sure your app conforms with all local laws … apps that solicit, promote, or encourage criminal or clearly reckless behavior will be rejected,” it said in the letter to Damus.

The app was likely banned because of its lack of content moderation, and had already been rejected multiple times because Apple requires apps to have a mechanism for reporting and blocking objectionable users and content, the Bitcoin site Watcher.Guru said in an article on Friday.

Any online platform that is accessible to users inside the Great Firewall of Chinese internet censorship must first acquire an internet content provider license, which are generally refused to apps capable of “disrupting public order” or evading censorship, and to platforms that refuse to gather real-name information and IP addresses from users or hand over user data to the authorities when requested.

Nostr — short for Notes and Other Stuff Transmitted by Relays — also had built-in support for the Bitcoin Lightning Network, Watcher.Guru said.

“The inclusion of support for the Bitcoin Lightning Network is another reason why authorities don’t look kindly on the project, as crypto is banned within the country,” it said.

Snowden a fan

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, now exiled in Russia after leaking huge quantities of information on the agency’s mass-surveillance of ordinary citizens to the media, is a prominent fan of Nostr and related apps.

“The problem is that most major states are pressuring corporations to limit speech,” Snowden wrote after opening an account on the platform, posting a screenshot of the post to his Twitter account on Jan. 23.

“The solution is to remove the ability to limit speech from corporate hands,” he wrote, adding to his Twitter followers: “Find me there.”

A social media user in China who gave only the nickname Lisa said Damus had the ability to evade Chinese internet censorship, and that she knew of many people who had already downloaded it.

“The new Twitter-like app, Damus, was popular in China for a day, but was taken down today,” she said. “I saw there were discussions about this in my WeChat groups for the past couple of days.”

“It was taken down from the store after just one day,” she said.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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