The iPhone maker isn’t refusing to comply with the government order but says it requires reasons and legal requirements to comply with the directive
At a time when Apple is flying high with its India engagement, there is a government directive that could queer the pitch for the company. The company has sought concrete reasons or a legal requirement before it would take steps to remove betting apps from its Apps store, says a recently published report.
According to a report in the ET, Apple has not refused to comply with the government’s order that came in February, but has reiterated that it would not arbitrarily remove the betting apps in order to make it unavailable in the country. Readers would recall that the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had sent a notification earlier this year.
The report quoted unnamed sources as suggesting that Apple’s contention on the order was that these apps were valid and legal in other countries and it would be tough for the company to bar them outright in India. From the government’s point of view, it has asked Apple to explore ways to implement the order.
How long can this issue pan out?
Discussions have reportedly been going on since March when Apple officials had met government executives over removing 138 apps that included betting and gaming ones that were banned in India. Several apps including Betway and Bet Analytix continue to be available on the App Store.
On its part, Google had banned these apps and removed them from their Play Store. Maybe because the company is already facing pressure from app makers in India over pricing, which has resulted in a few legal wrangles. The company, which provides the Android ecosystem to smartphones, continues to face antitrust action in the country.
Some reports said Apple too wasn’t concerned about the apps per say, but the optics around the situation. They were reportedly reviewing all the apps in order to ensure that only the bad players in the ecosystem were taken down. In fact, the company has actually removed some apps that the government had banned.
What is the law and what are the options?
In terms of options, Apple could either tell the government that it could not remove the apps and provide valid reasons for doing so or initiate legal action or to comply. Readers would recall that last year Twitter had gone to court over orders to remove content pertaining to some events on grounds that these were spreading misinformation.
According to the government notification, the apps violated Section 69A of the IT act and could be seen as a threat to India’s sovereignty and integrity. However, Apple could be using the same law to question the order for blocking the apps on grounds that gambling and betting did not constitute any security threat to a country.
As per the IT Rules 2023, the government has given powers to SRBs and SROs to approve online games. Also, betting and gambling happens to be a state subject and while the central government has drafted guidelines for digital space, the classification whether an activity constitutes betting or gambling is left to states.
Apple itself published App Store review guidelines that say gaming, lotteries and gambling are tricky to manage and lend themselves to interpretation of local rules. Therefore, it says in this highly regulated environment, developers seeking to publish apps on the App Store should first fully commit to the legal obligations thereof.