Putin’s critic Navalny lashes out at Google and Apple for accepting Kremlin censorship – Foniks Latest Daily News

Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, Alexey Navalny, has criticized Google and Apple for bowing to the Kremlin’s demands for censorship during recent parliamentary elections, accusing the tech giant of “cowardice” and of being an “accomplice” to President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to suppress the opposition. politics .

Both companies bowed to Russian government pressure to remove content related to the tactical voting campaign promoted by Navalny during last weekend’s election that saw Russia’s ruling pro-Putin party retain its majority amid allegations of widespread ballot fraud and a crackdown on anti-Kremlin opposition.
“If anything surprised me in the last election, it’s not how Putin faked the results, but how obediently almighty Big Tech turned into an accomplice,” Navalny said on Twitter on Thursday – a message written from prison and published by colleagues. his partner.
Navalny’s campaign, called Smart Voting, has called for people to vote for whichever candidate has the best chance of defeating the ruling party, United Russia. The online content contains a list of registered candidates recommended by the Navalny team.

Google and Apple removed the Smart Voting app from their stores in Russia, and Google blocked two related videos on YouTube.

The removal is the biggest concession a tech company has made to the Kremlin’s demands to restrict content and has sparked fears among Russian liberals that it is a significant step towards companies accepting wider censorship in the country.

Russian authorities banned Navalny’s movement earlier this year, after jailing an anti-corruption activist and pro-democracy campaigner who survived neurotoxin poisoning in 2020. The government in June designated the Navalny Anti-Corruption Foundation and its regional political office as “extremist organizations.” . ,” equating them with violent terrorist groups and requiring social media platforms to ban their content.

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The appointment has been widely condemned internationally, including by the United States, for being politically motivated.

Neither Google nor Apple made public statements about the app’s removal, and each declined to comment to ABC News. In an email explaining the decision to the Anti-Corruption Foundation, published online by the Navalny team, Apple said it was obligated to follow local laws and cited allegations by Russian prosecutors that the app allowed “election interference.”

Navalny accused companies of allowing themselves to be used as Kremlin instruments to block legitimate attempts at peaceful opposition, saying they feared losing market access to Russia and calling them “hypocrites” for presenting themselves as companies driven by values ​​such as improving the world. Google famously uses “Don’t be mean” as the company’s motto.
“In our case, the intention to organize voters to exert competitive pressure on the ruling party was declared criminal, and Big Tech agrees with this,” Navalny wrote.

He also asked employees within the company to raise the issue, writing: “I know that most of those who work at Google, Apple, etc. are honest and kind people. I encourage them not to put up with cowardice of their boss.”

Google and Apple in the past have largely resisted demands by the Russian government that they remove content that criticizes the authorities, with fines imposed by Russian state censors. But recently the Kremlin has stepped up pressure on US tech companies amid a broader crackdown on dissent.
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The day before Apple and Google each removed voting apps, the companies had to appear before a Russian senate committee. Andrey Klimov, a prominent senator who heads the commission — Protection of State Sovereignty and Prevention of Interference in Internal Affairs — accused them of illegal election meddling and threatened to punish them with a new law.

A few days earlier, bailiffs visited Google’s Moscow office, demanding the company pay the unpaid fines imposed by state censors. The New York Times reports Google made the decision to remove the Navalny app after authorities threatened to arrest local employees at Google’s Moscow offices.
Security experts say they fear the Kremlin is now increasingly determined to tame the foreign tech giant as it tightens its grip on Russia’s internet. The government has blocked a growing number of sites and is developing the infrastructure to allow it to cut off Russia’s access to the global web, if it deems it necessary. This year, Twitter began to slow down after the company refused to remove content.
Andrey Soldatov, author of “Red Web,” which researches the Russian government’s efforts to control the internet, said last week’s concessions were unlikely to prevent the Kremlin from leaning on Google and Apple any further. He said the government was increasingly confident in its technical ability to block major international platforms.

“To be honest,” he told ABC News by phone, “everything looks very, very dark right now.”

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