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Apple, Google bow to pressure in Russia to remove Kremlin critic’s tactical voting app – TechCrunch


Apple and Google have removed a tactical voting app created by the organization of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny from their respective mobile app stores in Russia.

Earlier this week, Reuters reported that the Russian state had stepped up pressure on foreign tech giants ahead of the federal election – appropriating the language of “election meddling” to push U.S. companies to censor it. leading political opponent of President Putin.

At Twitter today, a key Navalny ally, Ivan Zhdanov, tweeted that his organization was considering suing Apple and Google for removing the apps – calling the act of censorship a “huge mistake.”

Zhdanov also published what he says is Apple’s response to Team Navalny – in which the tech giant cites the Kremlin’s classification of a number of pro-Navalny organizations as “extremist” groups to justify its removal of the software.

(Image credit: Screenshot of details of Apple’s notification to developer, via Zhdanov’s Tweeter)

Apple and Google regularly state that they comply with “all local laws” in the countries in which they operate.

However, in Russia, this position means that they have become complicit in acts of political censorship.

“We note that the Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation and the Prosecutor’s Office of the City of Moscow have also determined that the application violates the laws of the Russian Federation by allowing interference in the elections,” writes Apple. in the takedown notification she sent to the developer of the tactical voting app.

“Although your app has been removed from the Russian App Store, it is still available in the App Stores of other territories that you selected in App Store Connect,” Apple adds.

Apple and Google have been contacted to comment on the removal of the Navalny app.

Also via Twitter, Zhdanov urged his supporters to focus on the tactical voting mission – tweeting a link to a video hosted on YouTube owned by Google that contains recommendations for Russians on how to vote against Putin in the parliamentary elections that run today through Sunday. .

Navalny supporters hope to mobilize voters across Russia to vote tactically in a bid to overthrow Putin by voting for the candidate with the best chance of defeating the ruling United Russia party.

Their tactical voting strategy has come under some criticism, given that many of the suggested alternatives are, at best, only very weakly opposed to Putin’s regime.

However, Navalny supporters would surely point out that they have to operate in a broken system.

After Apple and Google initially refused to remove Navalny’s “Smart Voting” app last month, the Russian state attempted to block access to its organization’s website.

He allegedly even targeted Google Docs – which Navalny supporters have also used to mount tactical voting efforts.

Apple, Google bow to pressure in Russia to remove Kremlin critic’s tactical voting app – TechCrunch

Screenshot of the Smart Voting app on the UK iOS app store (Image credits: Natasha Lomas / TechCrunch)

Earlier this month, Reuters reported that Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor had threatened Apple and Google with fines if they did not remove the Smart Voting app – warning that non-compliance could be interpreted as a electoral interference.

The Russian press also reported that Apple and Google were called to a Federation Council meeting on the eve of the election, as the Putin regime sought to force them to make its undemocratic offer.

According to a report by Kommersant, the tech giants have been warned that the Russian Federation is preparing to tighten regulation of their businesses – and told them to “regain consciousness”, in the face of another warning that they are in on a “red line”.

The latest effort to force platforms to remove Navalny’s app then paid off.

In recent weeks, Roskomnadzor has also targeted the country’s VPN apps for removal, making it difficult for Russians to bypass Navalny’s local app ban by accessing the software through stores in other countries.

Local search giant Yandex has also reportedly been ordered not to display search results for the Smart Voting app.

Earlier this year, the Putin regime also targeted Twitter – strangling the service for not removing content it wanted to ban, although Roskomnadzor claimed the action was linked to non-political content such as minors commit suicide, sexual exploitation of children and drug use.