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Google and Apple stand accused of interfering in Russian politics

September 3, 2021, 10:29 AM UTC

Good morning. David Meyer here in Berlin, filling in for Alan.

Big Tech’s Russian travails are sometimes quite nuanced. When the Russian information regulator Roskomnadzor threatened to fine Twitter earlier this year, for example, the illegal posts it was complaining about were partly of the sort that are illegal in most countries. Yes, the move came in a broader context of online repression within Russia, but the implications of this episode itself were at least somewhat debatable in the global context.

That’s not the case with the latest Kremlin crackdown on U.S. tech giants. This time, Google and Apple stand accused of interfering in Russian domestic politics by refusing to yank the app of jailed dissident Alexei Navalny from their app stores, weeks before national elections take place.

The companies have not complied with an order Roskomnadzor issued last month, and now the watchdog is threatening them with serious consequences. “Criminal liability is foreseen for organizing as well as taking part in the work of extremist organizations banned in Russia,” it said. “Such arrogant, selective behavior and demonstrative disregard for multiple requests by authorized Russian structures regarding content recognized as extremist is becoming truly unacceptable,” added the foreign ministry, according to AFP.

Navalny was jailed earlier this year for violating probation terms by being flown to Germany for treatment—he says the Putin regime poisoned his underwear with the banned nerve agent Novichok. The case had nothing to do with “extremism” but the Kremlin subsequently slapped that label on him and organizations allied to his cause, which are now banned. Russian law does not allow “extremist” online content; under this legislation, people have even been prosecuted for sharing memes and liking posts that the state considers extremist.

It’s not hard to see what’s going on here. United Russia, Putin’s ruling party, is unpopular and it wants to crush dissent ahead of elections. It wants to use Google and Apple as tools in this quest—just as the Russian opposition wants to use their mobile platforms to further their cause.

Are Google and Apple interfering in local politics? Only in the sense that they control the infrastructure on which ideological battlegrounds take place. That’s passive. Removing Navalny’s app, whatever Russian law requires, would mark much more active interference.

More news below. CEO Daily will return Tuesday—enjoy your weekend.

David Meyer


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This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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