Apple and Google on Friday removed an opposition voting app from their online stores just as voting began in Russia’s parliamentary elections, yielding to pressure from President Vladimir Putin’s censorship office in a move that rights activists digital media have called Silicon Valley’s last act of surrender to an authoritarian government.
For weeks, companies resisted as Navalny’s forces publicly and privately called on them to uphold global democratic standards. But on Friday, that resistance disappeared and the app disappeared from Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store in Russia, the main sources of apps for iPhone and Android mobile devices.
The app, designed by associates of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, was intended to help Russian voters opposed to Putin to vote in a way that would avoid dividing opposition support among multiple candidates and giving victory to candidate Putin. But Roskomnadzor, the Russian censorship agency, accused Apple and Google of interfering in Russian political affairs by allowing voters to download the app and demanded that it be removed from their online stores. He threatened fines and possible criminal prosecution while calling Navalny supporters “extremists”.
For users who had already downloaded the app, further updates appeared to have been blocked as well, and Navalny’s forces rushed to post candidate lists on alternative platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and Telegram.
In a tweet to Apple, she said: “I can’t believe I need to say this, but even in Russia voting is not criminal behavior.”
Natalia Krapiva, a digital rights lawyer with Internet freedom group Access Now, said it was clear that Apple and Google “made this decision under pressure. But companies owe the Russian people an explanation.
Navalny’s press secretary Kira Yarmysh, who recently fled the country, called Apple and Google’s actions “an exceptional act of censorship.”
“It’s a shame that at a time of the clash between honest people and a corrupt regime, these companies have played the game of the latter,” she said on Twitter.
The removal of the Navalny app has resulted in an unusually public showdown between the Putin regime and America’s tech giants, who, despite being among the richest companies in the world, often struggle to keep up. adapt to local laws in the countries where they operate. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov welcomed the decision to remove the app.
“They have met the legal requirements,” Peskov told reporters in Moscow. “This application is prohibited on the territory of our country. Both platforms have received relevant notices and it appears that they have made a decision in accordance with the letter and the spirit of the law. Neither company responded to the Washington Post’s requests for comment.
A person familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of angering the Russian government, said Google had received direct threats against personnel in the country from Russian authorities. The Associated Press reported that representatives of the two companies were invited to a meeting in the upper house of the Russian parliament on Thursday, after which legislative leaders said in a statement that Apple would cooperate with Russian authorities.
Apple also deactivated its Private Relay function in Russia on Friday. The feature conceals the user’s IP address and browsing data, providing protection against online government surveillance. It is not available in some other countries, including China, Belarus, Colombia and Saudi Arabia, but was available in Russia until Friday. Friday’s vote began three polling days for the Russian State Duma or the lower house of parliament. Government officials have offered to extend the vote to three days as a pandemic measure, but an independent observer group, Golos, criticized the extension of the election because it would leave the ballot boxes vulnerable to interference for two nights.
Navalny’s team recommended voters vote on Sunday to reduce the risk of theft overnight. The Navalny app’s “Smart Voting” tool, backed by a website called Smart Voting, released its voting recommendations on Wednesday.
Summary of the news:
- Navalny apps removed from Google and Apple Stores as Russian vote begins
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