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Apple sued for not removing Telegram from App Store over violent content and hate groups

Apple is being sued by the Coalition for a Safer Web for failing to remove access to Telegram while still blocking Parler, and also alleging it is being used by hate groups and extremists to attack the Capitol.

Filed on Sunday at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the lawsuit from Ambassador Marc Ginsberg and the Coalition for a Safer Web charges Apple with allowing Telegram to be available in the App Store. This "despite Apple's knowledge that Telegram is being used to intimidate, threaten, and coerce members of the public."

Billed as a "non-partisan, not-for-profit advocacy organization" to force the removal of extremist and terrorist content from social media platforms, the Coalition claims Apple is failing to follow its own policies and guidelines regarding app content in relation to Telegram. In doing so, Apple allows Telegram's more malicious users to continue their activities.

The lawsuit arrives at the end of a week where Apple, Google, Amazon, and others cut ties to Parler for failing to manage the content in the app generated by its users. The app was alleged to be used to plan and coordinate illegal activities in Washington D.C., including storming the U.S. Capitol.

In effect, the lawsuit is pressuring Apple into closely examining Telegram with a view to de-platforming the encrypted messaging app, for allegedly performing similar activities.

According to a CSW press release from June 2020 cited by the lawsuit, Telegram is being used as a "communications channel for the Russian government and affiliated Neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups, sowing misinformation and racial division in the United States and in Europe."

Ginsberg also wrote to Apple CEO Tim Cook on behalf of the CSW in July, asking for Telegram to be temporarily de-platformed, due to its role in "inciting extremist violence."

There is also the accusation that "anti-black and anti-Semitic groups have openly utilized Telegram with little or no content moderation by Telegram's management." Despite the CSW's warnings and media reports about the app, Apple "has not taken any action against Telegram comparable to the action it has taken against Parler to compel Telegram to improve its content moderation policies."

The suit also alleges Telegram is being used to "coordinate and incite extreme violence" before the inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden. "Some users have called on followers to abandon plans for a second protest in Washington in favor of surprise attacks nationwide," the filing claims.

There is also mention of how Ginsberg has suffered emotional distress and anxiety due to the misinformation and incitement for violence against Jews. As Ginsberg is both Jewish and in the public eye, he is forced to "live in apprehension of religiously motivated violence being perpetrated against him," causing him to fear for his life and the lives of his family.

The suit also cites an unfairness in how Apple applies its rules, citing both Parler's removal and that of Epic Games' "Fortnite," for violating its guidelines. Meanwhile, Telegram's usage is said to violate the App Store guidelines since the app's launch in 2013, in various ways.

In the case of Telegram's developers, the CSW claims they have "not undertaken any meaningful actions to curb these flagrant, systematic, and continuous violations of Defendant's app guidelines by Telegram users."

The suit demands a jury trial and asks the court to provide compensatory damages to each plaintiff, an injunction to be granted prohibiting Telegram from the App Store until it complies with Apple's guidelines, and legal costs.

Telegram has a spotted history with Apple regarding its users and content hosted on the service, with Apple pulling access in 2018 due to the presence of child pornography. In October, Apple demanded the removal of posts relating to protests in Belarus.

In April 2018, the Russian telecommunications regulator Roskomnadzor ordered Apple to halt downloads of Telegram, in part due to the app's developers refusing to hand over encryption keys to the government, as required by Russian law. While the political ban prevented updates to the app to go through for some time, Apple approved app updates to go through in June of the same year.