Apple pulls Russian state-owned media outlets RT and Sputnik from global App Stores

After days of mounting pressure on tech companies to take further action against Russia in the wake of its invasion into Ukraine, Apple today confirmed it will remove the Kremlin-based media outlets Russia Today (RT News) and Sputnik News from the App Store in all markets outside Russia itself. The changes follow other actions taken against these two state-owned media operations both in the EU and globally.   

In recent days, Microsoft banned RT from its Windows app store and de-ranked both news sources in its search engine Bing. Google banned the RT News app in Ukraine at the request of the government in Kyiv. Roku banned RT from its streaming platform. Twitter flagged tweets from the media outlets with warnings and de-ranked their tweets. Facebook restricted access to the sites, making them unavailable in the EU, as did TikTok. And Google also removed them from YouTube.

Apple’s move to pull RT News and Sputnik News from its global App Stores follows a request from Ukrainian vice prime minister Mykhailo Fedorov, who wrote a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook asking Apple to stop device sales in Russia and block access to the App Store entirely.

According to data provided to TechCrunch by app intelligence firms Sensor Tower and Apptopia, the two Russian media apps had millions of lifetime downloads and were live as of yesterday in global markets.

In the U.S. App Store, RT News had been ranked No. 42 in the News category as of February 28th, and Sputnik was ranked No. 85, Sensor Tower said. In addition, worldwide installs of RT News for iOS were up 241% in the last seven days compared to the seven days prior. And Sputnik installs on iOS were up 163% for the same period, the firm noted. It noted the app had been pulled from some 100 global markets. (In the E.U., the news outlets are sanctioned, essentially banned by law, but this is a broader removal).

The two app store intelligence firms reported different estimates for the Russian apps’ footprints, however.

Sensor Tower reports that RT News had 5.7 million installs worldwide since its launch in May 2013, 1.7 million of which were on the App Store specifically. Sputnik had 2 million installs worldwide since its release in March 2015, and around 470,000 of those were on iOS.

Meanwhile, Apptopia’s data indicates the apps had a wider reach. It sees RT News with 10 million lifetime global installs, 2.5 million of which were on iOS. And Sputnik News had 3.85 million downloads, 960,000 of which were on iOS.

Neither firm has an exact number because they don’t work off direct access to App Store data — only Apple and the apps’ publishers know the true install figures. Instead, both generate estimates using statistical models.

The news sites weren’t the only impacted apps related to the Russian-Ukraine war. Apple also disabled both traffic and live incidents in Apple Maps in Ukraine as a safety and precautionary measure for Ukrainian citizens, it said, following a similar move by Google.