Apple Inc will let the social-media app Parler back on the App Store after an almost four-month absence, the iPhone maker told US lawmakers ahead of a congressional antitrust hearing later this week.
The Cupertino, California-based technology giant made the disclosure in a letter to Senator Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, and Representative Ken Buck, a Republican from Colorado. The social media app, a favourite of conservatives who have left Twitter Inc, was removed from the App Store in January after it was one of the online networks used to incite violence at the US Capitol in Washington. At the time, Apple said it pulled the app for violating content guidelines and said it would consider reinstating the service if Parler made changes to better moderate content.
On Monday, Alphabet Inc’s Google also indicated it would allow Parler back on the Google Play store if the app meets guidelines. “Parler is welcome back in the Play store once it submits an app that complies with our policies,” a Google spokesperson said. The company added that the app had remained available on Android via other channels despite the January removal from Google Play.
Apple told the government officials in its letter that it found posts on Parler that “encouraged violence, denigrated various ethnic groups, races and religions, glorified Nazism, and called for violence”. Since the initial rejection, as well as rejections of other updates, Apple has “engaged in substantial conversations with Parler in an effort to bring the Parler app into compliance with the guidelines and reinstate it in the App Store”, the company said in the letter.
Apple said Parler has proposed content moderation changes and was informed on April 14 that an update of the app would be approved. Parler said in a statement that it would launch the updated app next week on the App Store.
The reinstatement to the App Store “comes after several months of productive dialogue with Apple and new information that Parler provided to the public and Congress to demonstrate that the company has always prohibited incitement and Parler had been unfairly scapegoated for the events of January 6th”, the social network said in a statement.
Parler said it “implemented several new safeguards in order to detect posts that would not fall within the protections of the First Amendment”. The social network, however, said it won’t “make changes to its broad policies to create a free and open platform without viewpoint censorship and committed to the First Amendment rights of its users”. That will mean that the iPhone version of the Parler app will exclude posts that will otherwise remain available on Parler’s web and Android versions.
In its letter, Apple said it requires apps to filter “objectionable material”, provide a way for users to report offensive content, offer the ability to block “abusive users” and list contact information so users can reach the developer. Google requires similar moderation tools for apps hosted on Google Play.
In Apple’s letter on Monday to the lawmakers, written by Senior Director of Government Affairs for the Americas Timothy Powderly, the company said it originally decided to remove Parler independently and that it did not coordinate with Google or Amazon.com Inc, which barred Parler from running on its cloud service.
Apple’s decision to reinstate Parler comes ahead of a Wednesday hearing scheduled by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust and Consumer Rights, which is run by Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota. Lee is the panel’s top Republican. Kyle Andeer, Apple’s chief compliance officer, will speak at the hearing, the company said earlier this month.
“Apple’s power over the cost, distribution, and availability of mobile applications on the Apple devices used by millions of consumers raises serious competition issues that are of interest to the subcommittee, consumers, and app developers,” the senators wrote to Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook ahead of the hearing. “A full and fair examination of these issues before the subcommittee requires Apple’s participation.” – Bloomberg