Supporters of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny have accused Google and Apple of capitulating to pressure from the Kremlin after the two tech companies removed their tactical voting app from their online stores.
Both companies had come under significant pressure from Russian regulators in the days leading up to the country’s parliamentary elections to block access to Navalny’s Smart Voting initiative, which attempts to channel opposition votes toward stronger opponents. of the ruling party, United Russia.
Google and Apple were charged with election interference by Russian officials amid a larger showdown between the Kremlin and big tech over how much control Russia’s authoritarian government can have over information disseminated within the country. The Kremlin said on Friday it welcomed the removal of the apps.
When voting in the parliamentary elections began on Friday, the apps disappeared from both companies’ stores in Russia and Ivan Zhdanov, a senior Navalny adviser, published a letter from Apple that appeared to confirm that company’s decision.
“We are writing to notify you that your application will be removed from the Russian App Store because it contains content that is illegal in Russia,” the note read. 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. The authoritarian government and Russian propaganda will be delighted. “
He also said Navalny’s team was considering filing a lawsuit against tech companies. The Guardian has reached out to Google and Apple for comment.
A Russian court imposed fines on Google last month as regulators demanded that social media companies like Twitter and Facebook store Russian user data in the country and delete material banned by Russian courts and regulators. . The Russian government also told Google that it should remove search results related to Navalny’s Smart Voting initiative.
Apple was also fined $ 12 million earlier this year for allegedly occupying a monopoly position in the app market. He has challenged that decision in court.
Google and Apple were under pressure to host Navalny’s online application before the election. Local representatives of both companies were invited to the Federation Council, a legislative body, to be severely criticized by Russian senators and regulators.
A lawmaker also said that employees of the two companies could face criminal prosecution if they ignored demands to block Navalny’s request.
“Entities and individuals associated with Apple and Google must realize that deliberately illegal actions and criminal inaction demonstrated by receiving relevant warnings from Russian officials will invariably carry legal consequences, up to and including criminal prosecution,” said Council Member Vladimir Dzhabarov. of the Federation. at a commission meeting Thursday, according to Interfax.
The US ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Office for a similar reprimand. The Russian government’s allegations of interference by the United States in the elections appear to intentionally reflect similar investigations in the United States.
“The Russian side has irrefutable evidence of the violation of Russian laws by the US ‘digital giants'” before the Russian elections, the Foreign Ministry wrote.