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Apple approves Telegram update after Russian government demands app shutdown

Amidst a contentious battle with the Russian government over demands to pull Telegram from the App Store, Apple on Friday approved an updated version of the messaging app after seemingly blocking such changes for two months.

Telegram CEO Pavel Durov in a post to his Twitter account on Friday publicly thanked Apple and CEO Tim Cook for issuing the update despite "recent setbacks."

A day earlier, Durov alleged Apple was actively blocking global updates after Russian authorities ordered the company to expunge Telegram from the App Store. Though Apple has not responded or acquiesced to the request, global Telegram updates have been stuck in the review process since April.

For Durov, the inaction on Apple's part signaled preemptive compliance with Russia, which banned the app from its territory at around the same time that the flow of updates stopped.

Without the ability to update its software, Telegram was unable to push out modifications that would make the app fully compliant with the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation laws. Users running Apple's iOS 11.4, released this week, ran the risk of encountering problems with the app as it was not optimized for the latest operating system version.

Whether approval of the update represents resistance on Apple's part to comply with Russia's ban is unclear. The company has not commented on the Telegram debacle since the issue was made public in April.

Telegram's problems began when developers refused to provide Russia's Federal Security Service, or FSB, with encryption keys that would allow the spy agency to intercept communications sent through the service. In mid-April, Russian communications watchdog Roskomnadzor successfully won court approval to ban the app, though enacting the shutdown has proven more difficult than expected due to wide use of VPNs.

In an attempt to halt further distribution, Roskomnadzor requested both Apple and Google pull Telegram from their respective app stores. A second letter was sent to Apple earlier this month "demanding to stop the distribution of the Telegram Messenger app in the App Store, as well as sending its service push notifications to Russian users." The body is giving Apple one month to comply, but leveled a threat to cease all App Store distribution if demands were not met.

Apple lauds itself as a bastion of free speech and free expression, but operating in cloistered countries like Russia and China have put those claims to the test. In China, for example, Apple removed VPN apps, Western media outlets from its regional App Store, and recently completed a transition of iCloud accounts to local servers at the government's behest.