UPDATED Monday, June 4, with news that the updated Telegram app had been added to the App Store.
Exiled Russian technology entrepreneur Pavel Durov says Apple is bowing to Russian government pressure and not updating the iOS app for Telegram Messenger, Durov's partially encrypted messaging service.
"Apple has been preventing Telegram from updating its iOS apps globally ever since the Russian authorities ordered Apple to remove Telegram from the App Store," Durov wrote in a blog posting earlier today (May 31). "Unfortunately, Apple didn’t side with us."
That's not entirely true. Telegram Messenger is still in the Russian version of the iOS App Store (and the Russian Google Play app store), despite a new threat that the Russia government may "disrupt the functioning" of the app market in Russia unless Apple complies. We've reached out to Apple and will update this story if we receive a response.
All of this aside, you probably shouldn't be using Telegram Messenger for secure messaging anyway. Information-security experts have pointed out for years that Telegram's encryption protocols are questionable. That hasn't stopped China from banning Telegram outright, but we recommendWhatsApp or Signal instead.
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Durov is right about the iOS version of Telegram Messenger. It hasn't been updated here in the United States since March 24, while the Android app last got an update May 26 and the macOS version was updated on May 29. The iOS app is stuck at 4.8.1, but the Android one is at 4.8.9, which adds settings and privacy tweaks to comply with the European Union's new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
"As a result [of the lack of iOS updates], we’ve also been unable to fully comply with GDPR for our EU-users by the deadline of May 25, 2018," Durov said in his blog post.
In April, the Russian government banned Telegram Messenger after the service did not hand over the encryption keys it uses to secure users' messages, as all secure messaging providers are required to do under a new Russian anti-terrorism law.
Telegram says it doesn't have the encryption keys. (It's not clear how or whether Apple complies with Russian law regarding its own encrypted iMessages protocol.)
Two Russians who spoke with the Verge in April said that Telegram was "very important ... for the small affluent margin" of urban liberals who oppose the government of President Vladimir Putin, even as most of the country preferred Viber and WhatsApp.
"There are 12 million users, and it feels like most of them are in Moscow," said one of the Verge's sources.
The other said that Telegram's "channels that deliver current news and analysis anonymously" were "really the whole problem that the government is currently having with Telegram. Not some shady terrorist chats."
Those features certainly sound useful in a country where the central government censors all television news broadcasts. But it doesn't have much to with Telegram's encryption, which is based on a home-grown protocol that has had some well-publicized security issues.
"It's like coming up and finding a submarine where the doors are made out of Saran Wrap," Johns Hopkins encryption expert Matthew Green told The Atlantic in a 2016 article. "I guess if you use enough Saran Wrap you could build a pretty secure submarine. ... But it does mean it's not something I would want to trust with my life."
"Oh boy, does Telegram encryption suck," Green wrote on Twitter later in 2016. "Seriously people, don't use that except on a dare."
UPDATE: Late on Friday (June 1), the official Telegram Messenger Twitter account tweeted that "Telegram for iOS v.4.8.2 is finally out! Get it for new privacy settings and iOS 11.4 fixes, including the issue with stickers."
"Thank you @Apple and @tim_cook for letting us deliver the latest version of @telegram to millions of users, despite the recent setbacks," Durov himself tweeted soon afterward.
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