According to a series of tweets from Navalny’s team on Friday, a voting app created by allies of prominent Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny was removed from Google and Apple’s online stores in Russia just as polls opened for parliamentary elections.
Ivan Zhdanov, a close ally of the imprisoned dissident, tweeted an image of what he claimed was an Apple email confirming the app’s ban. The app, also known as Navalny, was removed, according to the email, because Russia labels the Kremlin critic’s anti-corruption foundation as “extremist,” a reference to his now-banned political movement. As a result, the app contained content that was deemed “illegal” in the country.
In the State Duma elections, the Navalny app included recommendations for the opposition leader’s “Smart Voting” strategy, which encourages Russians to vote tactically in support of a candidate most capable of unseating an incumbent from the ruling party, United Russia. The voting strategy, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, is a “provocation” and harmful to voters.
The Russian government has been putting a lot of pressure on American tech companies in recent months. Fines have been imposed on some for failing to remove content deemed “extremist” or “undesirable” by authorities. Bailiffs also paid a visit to Google’s Russian office on Monday, according to Russian state media.
Roskomnadzor, Russia’s internet regulator, has demanded that Google and Apple remove the “Navalny” app from their respective app stores. Last Friday, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement claiming that the US Ambassador to Russia had been “summoned” and told that Russia has “irrefutable evidence of the American digital giants’ violation of Russian legislation” in relation to the elections.
Neither Apple (AAPL) nor Google (GOOGL) have made any official statements about the app’s removal from their Russian online stores.
Millions of Russians are expected to vote over a three-day period beginning Friday in elections that will take place against the backdrop of an unprecedented assault on democracy in the previous year.
Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s press secretary, tweeted that the American tech giants’ decision is a “huge disappointment” and a “act of political censorship” that “cannot be justified.” Navalny’s team is considering suing Apple and Google, according to Zhdanov.
According to a source familiar with Google’s decision, the app was removed from the Google Play Store due to legal “demands” from Russia’s internet regulator. According to the source, Google has received both public and private threats of prosecution in Russia against its employees.
According to a source familiar with the company’s decision, Russian authorities threatened Google’s local staff in Russia with criminal prosecution. On Thursday, Russian state news agency TASS reported that a Russian official had issued a direct warning that continued deliberate “illegal actions and criminal inaction after receiving warnings” would result in criminal legal action.