Damus, one of the fastest-growing Twitter alternatives, has been pulled from China’s App Store just two days after the app was approved by Apple.
The app, which runs atop the Jack Dorsey-backed decentralized social networking protocol Nostr, was removed from the China App Store per request by the country’s top internet watchdog because it “includes content that is illegal in China,” according to an app review notice Damus received and shared on Twitter.
Being decentralized means there is no central authority that decides who can participate or say what on the platform. That made Damu’s approval process difficult at first, as Apple requires services to have a mechanism for flagging objectional content, but Damus eventually worked out a way to get listed in Apple’s App Store on February 1.
The decentralized nature of the app no doubt led to its short-lived debut in China where information is under tight control by the government. Social networks legally operating in China all have censorship tools baked in to eliminate illegal content or information banned by the authority. Anonymity is non-existent as user signups are linked to people’s real identities.
The authority has cut off Damus’ distribution in the country through App Store — Google Play is unavailable in China and in place is a handful of domestic third-party Android stores that are often out of reach for foreign developers. But it looks like access is so far intact. Those already with Damus on their phones can still view and comment on posts without having to circumvent the Great Firewall, the country’s censorship system that blocks or slows down certain foreign websites, as of Feb 3.
Nostr is built to be censorship-resistant through “relays”, a type of network responsible for receiving posts and distributing them to network participants. Users can publish their posts to multiple relays, and they only see content in the relays they connect to. So if one relay is censored, they can post their content through another. But is there a way to block every single relay? It will be interesting to see how the app’s usage evolves in China over the next few weeks.
This is a developing story…