Citing policy, Apple store refuses to sell iPhone to customer speaking Farsi

The world’s most popular tech company has gotten itself into hot water over what one could call a case of ethnic profiling. Apple is standing by its decision to not sell an iPhone to a customer who was speaking Farsi, the dominant language in the Persian country of Iran.

An Alpharetta woman and one of her friends say the Apple Store turned them away after they heard them speaking Farsi.

One was trying to buy an iPad, the other an iPhone. When they were heard speaking the foreign language, they said the sales representative refused to sell them anything.

Apple says it’s simply following U.S. policy.

“Very hurtful, very embarrassing. I actually walked out in tears,” Sahar Sabet said about the experience.

Sabet is a U.S. citizen. Like most 19-year-olds, the University of Georgia student is never far from her iPhone.

So she was surprised Thursday when an employee at the Apple Store inside North Pointe Mall in Alpharetta refused to sell an iPad to her and her uncle after overhearing them speaking Farsi.

“When we said ‘Farsi, I’m from Iran,’ he said, ‘I just can’t sell this to you. Our countries have bad relations,'” Sabet said.

“I would say if you’re trying to buy an iPhone, don’t tell them anything about Iran. That would be your best bet,” said Zack Jafarzadeh, who had a similar experience at the Apple Store in Perimeter Mall.

The policy, which can be found here, said the “exportation, reexportation, sale or supply, directly or indirectly, from the United States, or by a U.S. person wherever located, of any Apple goods, software, technology (including technical data), or services to any of these countries is strictly prohibited without prior authorization by the U.S. Government.” Along with Iran, the company follows the U.S. policy of embargoing countries such as Cuba, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.

The manager apparently said the company has to “rely on customers to be honest.”

So, let me get this straight.  Anyone speaking the language prevalent in any of the aforementioned countries could possibly be denied the sale of Apple products because the U.S. has embargoes on those countries, despite the fact that the people who are speaking these languages could be in fact American citizens who’ve never visited these countries? Should English speakers of other languages just leave any trace of their ethnic and racial background outside Apple’s stores so they can reduce the possibility of being racially profiled?

Also, the way this policy is worded, it could be utilized at the discretion of a store manager, thus creating an inconsistent pattern in the company. What about people who speak languages that cross the boundaries of nation-states, such as Spanish and Arabic? How will a manager be able to tell someone speaking Spanish isn’t from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic or Honduras? Will there be different translators of Spanish dialect and slang that’s native to certain countries in which Spanish is the dominant language? What about the various languages spoken in Sudan? Will there be translators at each Apple store to be able to decipher which language is native to which of these rogue countries?

Looks like Apple may have more explaining to do when it comes to a policy that, despite its attempt to mirror federal laws, reeks of racial and ethnic profiling.

Thoughts?

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