Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Apple and Google give in to Putin’s censors and block Navalny app when elections start

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Enlarge / A sculpture of the Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny in front of the Brandenburg Gate at an anti-Putin rally on May 9, 2021 in Berlin, Germany.

Getty Images | Adam Berry

Apple and Google gave a boost to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ruling party by removing a strategic voting app developed by activists supporting jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The app, called “Navalny,” was launched in mobile app stores ahead of the legislative elections this weekend when Apple and Google gave in to pressure from the Russian government.

“Removing the Navalny app from stores is a shameful act of political censorship. The authoritarian government and Russian propaganda will be delighted,” said Ivan Zhdanov, director of the Navalny-founded Anti-Corruption Foundation and an opposition politician Russia of the Future. match, wrote on Twitter. While candidates associated with Navalny cannot participate in elections, the Navalny app was designed to help voters rally around opposition candidates on the ballot.

What noted by NBC News, the now-removed tactical voting app allows voters who don’t want the president [Vladimir] Putin’s ruling political party, United Russia, to win elections to organize around a single opposition candidate in each of 225 electoral districts in an effort to increase the number of politicians not approved by the Kremlin in power. Since mid-August, the Russian government “threatened Apple and Google with fines if they did not remove Navalny’s tactical voting app from the App Store and Google Play Store,” wrote NBC News.

Russia stepped up its pressure on companies as the elections approached. “Google removed the app on Friday morning after Russian authorities issued a direct threat of criminal prosecution against company staff in the country, naming specific people, according to a person familiar with the company’s decision.” The New York Times wrote. “The move comes a day after a Russian lawmaker raised the possibility of retaliation against employees of the two technology companies, saying they would be punished.”

In an apparently related move today, “Apple also disabled its Private relay function in Russia, ” The Washington Post reported. “The feature hides the user’s IP address and browsing data, offering protection against online government surveillance.”

The Navalny app was removed just as voting began in the three-day Friday-Sunday elections. Navalny’s team apparently considering legal action against Apple and Google. We reached out to Apple and Google about removing the app today and will update this article if we get any responses.

Apple obeys government demands

Apple’s capitulation to the Russian government likely worries anyone who opposes the company’s plan for iPhones and other Apple devices to scan users’ photos for child sexual abuse material (CSAM) before they are uploaded. in iCloud. Apple said it will reject the government’s demands to expand photo scanning beyond CSAM. But Apple’s removal from the election app, when considered alongside previous concessions the company made to Russia and China, is a reminder that Apple has to. Comply with the laws in the countries where it operates or risks losing access to those markets.

Apple has said it operates in countries where it disagrees with the laws to “stay engaged.” From Apple “Commitment to human rights“The document says:” We believe in the fundamental importance of an open society in which information flows freely, and we are convinced that the best way to continue promoting openness is to remain engaged, even when we do not agree with the laws of a country. “” Olivia Solon, NBC News reporter he pointed today.

Apple initially said it would launch photo scanning in the US this year and bring it to other countries later. More than 90 political groups in the US and around the world urged Apple to abandon the plan, predicting that governments will require that Apple “scan photos not only for CSAM, but also for other images that a government finds objectionable. Those Images can be of human rights abuses, political protests, images that companies have labeled as ‘terrorist’ or violent extremist content, or even unflattering images of the same politicians who will pressure the company to seek them out. ” The implementation of the photo-scanning system would lay a “basis for censorship, surveillance and persecution worldwide,” the groups said.

Amid the backlash, Apple said on September 3 that “it will take more time in the coming months to gather information and make improvements before launching these critically important child safety features.”

Vote content of the application “illegal in Russia”

Zhdanov posted a screenshot from Apple’s message informing the Navalny app developers that the election app was removed. Apple said the Russian government censorship agency determined that the application “contains content that is illegal in Russia, which does not comply with the App Store Review Guidelines.” The message from Apple read:

Applications must meet all legal requirements wherever you make them available (if you are unsure, consult an attorney). We know these things are complicated, but it is your responsibility to understand and make sure your application complies with all local laws, not just the guidelines below. And, of course, applications that request, promote or encourage criminal or clearly reckless behavior will be rejected.

We note that the Office of the Prosecutor of the Russian Federation and the Office of the Moscow City Prosecutor have also determined that the application violates the legislation of the Russian Federation by allowing interference in elections.

While your app was removed from the Russian app store, it is still available in the app stores for the other territories you selected on App Store Connect. The TestFlight version of this app will also not be available for external and internal testing in Russia and all TestFlight public links will no longer be functional.

Russia banned groups it called “extremists”

Apple’s message to app developers included the request that Apple received from the Russian government agency Roskomnadzor, the Federal Communications, Information Technology and Media Supervision Service. Roskomnadzor told Apple that the Anti-Corruption Fund and Navalny’s “public movement” are “recognized as extremists within the country.”

“In accordance with Article 9 of the Federal Law of July 25, 2002 No. 114-FZ, ‘Against Extremist Activity’, by decision of the Moscow City Court dated June 9, 2021, these organizations without Profits were liquidated, and the activities of the public movement were banned, “Roskomnadzor told Apple. “At this time, the Navalny application is being distributed through the App Store service, which is used to promote the activities and implement the activities of the aforementioned extremist organizations.”

With Navalny in prison and the Russian authorities having prevented his supporters and other opposition figures from appearing on the ballot, the app was designed to help voters identify candidates from non-ruling parties.

“The idea, which Mr. Navalny calls smart voting, is to unite opposition-minded voters around a particular candidate running against United Russia in each of the country’s 225 electoral districts,” The New York Times. wrote earlier this week. “That candidate could be a liberal, a nationalist or a Stalinist. Before the Russians go to the polls, they can enter their address into the ‘Navalny’ smartphone app, which then responds with the names of the candidates for whom they they must vote, whether or not the voters agree with the views of those people. “

Like the BBC indicated Today, Putin’s United Russia Party is expected to win the elections. “Although a total of 14 parties are participating in the vote, many candidates deemed anti-Putin are prohibited from running, including anyone associated with Navalny’s opposition movement. Some prominent Kremlin opponents have been forced to leave Russia,” the BBC wrote. .

“Even in Russia, voting is not criminal behavior”

Technical legal advisor Natalia Krapiva The digital rights group Access Now wrote on Twitter that the app “helped Russians who disagree with Putin find candidates to vote for” and is the “very definition of the democratic process.”

“For once, Putin was scared too … Russia has done everything they can to get the app removed. A fake brand lawsuit, legal threats. @Google and @Apple knew exactly what was going on. And, until this morning , they resisted, ” Krapiva wrote.

“Worse: After extracting the actual voting guide app, @Apple agreement imposter apps, “he added.” Russians heading to the polls are now unknowingly installing apps that can put them in immediate danger. “

Krapiva noted that Apple’s correspondence with application developers warned them that applications should not promote “criminal” behavior. “@Apple, I can’t believe I have to say this, but even in Russia, voting is not criminal behavior,” Krapiva wrote. Apple and Google “owe an explanation to the Russian people,” he wrote.

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