A recent Apple Maps update lists Crimea as Ukrainian territory. It's the first time since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 that Apple seems to recognize Crimea as Ukrainian.
Russia's military forces swiftly invaded Ukrainian Crimea in 2014, occupying it and claiming it as theirs. Initially, Apple refused to regard Crimea as belonging to any country, but in 2019, after pressure from Russia, the tech giant labeled the peninsula as Russian.
The State Duma, the Russian parliament's lower house, hailed this move as something that gives legitimacy to its occupation: "Crimea and Sevastopol now appear on Apple devices as Russian territory," the Duma said in a statement, adding that after months of discussion, it convinced Apple to fix this "inaccuracy" and was happy with the outcome.
"There is no going back," said Vasily Piskaryov, chairman of the Duma security and anti-corruption committee, in 2019. "Today, with Apple, the situation is closed - we have received everything we wanted."
But there was going back.
Now, after Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine, most of the world has come together to condemn the actions carried out by the Russian state, and Apple has apparently joined in.
Apple has paused the sale of products and services in Russia, tech giant was said it was "deeply concerned" about the Russian invasion and stands with those "suffering as a result of the violence". Apple Pay and Apple Maps have also been limited in Russia. Now, the Maps update suggests that Apple no longer recognizes Russian legitimacy in Crimea -- though it also shows that this recognition is reversible.
Mykhailo Fedorov, Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, says he's contacted Apple executives to enact further sanctions:
It's extraordinarily rare for Apple to take such a stand, and it shows that the chorus of giant companies against Russian aggression is growing stronger.
However, the move also had an unexpectedly negative consequence: after Russia's crackdown on the last free journalists in the country, there was no way for publishers to circumvent the censorship -- because Apple also blocked software updates.
For now, the situation in Ukraine remains critical, and the Russian crackdown inside its own borders shows signs of intensifying. While it's important for companies (especially big tech) to stand up against aggression, big tech companies also have a responsibility of ensuring a free flow of information -- with Russian authorities trying to censor the information coming through, this has never been more important.