Tag Archives: Embargo

App Economies: When Economic Blockades Create New Industries

Posted by Sam Kellogg — MA candidate in Media, Culture, and Communications at NYU

In my last blog post I addressed some of the nuances and contradictions of Internet adoption for contemporary Cuban sociality and economics, and discussed how these nuances bear on the ways we think about development. In this post, I’d like to unpack some of the unexpected consequences of the US economic blockade against Cuba, and explain how massive demand has created a unique new local industry around the installing and updating of apps.

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Wifi-enabled public parks are sites of shared virtuality.

One of the more curious, and frustrating, consequences of the US economic embargo for Internet users in the island is that the Apple App Store and Google Play Store become unusable. Since Apple and Google are US companies, they’d be breaking the law if they did business with Cuba without explicit permission. To avoid this, these companies have implemented safeguards: if you try to download an app from the Apple App Store in Cuba, Apple’s servers will detect your location and throw an error code (1009—there are only a handful of places in the world you’ll see this error code). If Apple were a Canadian company you’d be able to download apps in Cuba as normal, but Apple must follow US government regulations, making it that much more difficult for Cubans to use the limited access available to them.

Of course, there are always routes around these kinds of restrictions, passageways available to circumnavigate a barrier. The easiest way to get around Apple’s error code is to install and use a VPN service to trick Apple’s servers into thinking you are in another country: there are a wide variety of free and commercial VPN services available; they are relatively easy to use and work well (read this if you want to learn how to choose and use one). If you don’t already have a VPN app on your phone when you enter Cuba, however, (and how would you if you’re Cuban), you’re once again in trouble: the only way to install apps on an iPhone is through the App Store, and that goes for VPN services as well as games or dating apps.

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Connecting to public wifi using a scratch-off card.

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