Supporters of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny have accused Google and Apple of surrendering to pressure from the Kremlin after the two tech companies removed his tactical voting app from their online stores.
Both companies had come under significant pressure from Russian regulators days before the country’s parliamentary elections to block access to Navalny’s smart voting initiative, which attempts to channel opposition votes to the most powerful opponents of the ruling party, United Russia.
Google and Apple have been accused of election interference by Russian officials amid a larger clash between the Kremlin and big tech over the control Russia’s authoritarian government may have over information disseminated inside from the country. The Kremlin said on Friday it welcomed the removal of the apps.
As the general election vote began on Friday, apps disappeared from both companies’ Russian stores and Navalny’s senior advisor Ivan Zhdanov published a letter from Apple that appeared to confirm the company’s decision.
“We are writing to let you know that your app will be removed from the Russian App Store because it contains illegal content in Russia,” the note said. The Navalny organization had been declared “extremist” in Russia, the note added.
Zhdanov wrote: “Removing the Navalny app from stores is a shameful act of political censorship. Russia’s authoritarian government and propaganda will be delighted.
He also said the Navalny team was considering taking legal action against the tech companies. The Guardian has contacted Google and Apple for comment.
A Russian court fined Google last month, as regulators asked social media companies, including Twitter and Facebook, to store Russian user data in the country and remove content banned by courts and law enforcement agencies. Russian regulators. The Russian government has also told Google it needs to remove search results related to Navalny’s smart voting initiative.
Apple was also fined $ 12 million earlier this year for allegedly holding a monopoly position in the app market. He challenged this decision in court.
Google and Apple have been singled out for lobbying to host Navalny’s online app ahead of the election. Local representatives of both companies have been invited to the Federation Council, a legislative body, for harsh criticism from Russian senators and regulators.
A lawmaker also said employees at both companies could face criminal charges if they ignore requests to block the Navalny app.
“Entities and individuals associated with Apple and Google should realize that knowingly unlawful actions and criminal inaction demonstrated after receiving relevant warnings from Russian officials will invariably result in legal consequences, up to and including criminal prosecution, ”said Vladimir Dzhabarov, member of the Federation Council. at a committee meeting Thursday, according to Interfax.
The US ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Office for a similar reprimand. The Russian government’s accusations of US interference in the elections appear to intentionally mirror similar investigations in the United States.
“The Russian side has irrefutable evidence of the violation of Russian laws by the American ‘digital giants’” before the elections in Russia, wrote the Foreign Ministry.