By Removing A Russian Programme From App Store And Google Play, Apple And Google Have Raised Fresh Worries

Smart Voting was the app in question, and it was used to organise opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of the weekend elections.

By Removing A Russian Programme From App Store And Google Play, Apple And Google Have Raised Fresh Worries
By Removing A Russian Programme From The App Store And Google Play, Apple And Google Have Raised Fresh Worries

Big Tech corporations that conduct business all around the world have long claimed to follow local laws and defend civil rights. 

However, the fact that Apple and Google bowed to Russian demands and removed a political-opposition app from their respective app stores raised concerns that two of the world's most successful companies are more comfortable bowing to undemocratic edicts and maintaining a steady flow of profits than upholding their users' rights. Smart Voting was the app in question, and it was used to organise opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of the weekend elections. Last week's ban by two of the world's wealthiest and most powerful corporations infuriated supporters of free elections and free expression. 

This is awful news for democracy and freedom of expression around the world "Natalia Krapiva, a tech legal counsel with the internet freedom group Access Now, agreed. Other dictators are likely to follow Russia's lead." 

In many of the world's less democratic countries, technology businesses that provide consumer services such as search, social media, and applications have long walked a fine line.

Over the last decade, as Apple, Google, and other major corporations such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook have grown in power, so have government desires to harness that influence for their objectives. 
This has become the face of political tyranny "Sascha Meinrath, a professor at Penn State University who monitors online censorship, agreed. Google and Apple have made it more likely that this will happen again." 

When the news of the app's removal came last week, neither Apple nor Google reacted to requests for comment from The Associated Press; both have been silent this week as well. According to a source familiar with the situation, Google has faced legal demands from Russian regulators as well as threats of criminal prosecution of individual employees if it did not cooperate. Russian authorities were alleged to have visited Google's Moscow offices last week to enforce a court order to stop the app, according to the same source. Because of the sensitivity of the situation, the person spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity. 

Employees at Google are said to have slammed the firm for caving into Putin's power play by releasing internal texts and photographs mocking the app's removal. As Google's aspirations appeared to contradict with its one-time corporate motto, Don't Be Evil, this type of criticism has been more widespread in recent years "Larry Page and Sergey Brin, co-founders of Google, adopted it 23 years ago. 

Page and Brin, whose family fled the former Soviet Union for the United States when he was a child, are no longer involved in Google's day-to-day operations, and that motto has long been abandoned. Apple, on the other hand, declares a lofty Commitment To Human Rights "Although a close reading of that statement shows that the corporation will obey the government where legal government commands and human rights conflict.

Where national law and international human rights standards differ, we follow the higher standard," it reads. "Where they conflict, we respect national law while seeking to respect the principles of internationally recognized human rights.

According to a new report from the Washington-based NGO Freedom House, global internet freedom has fallen for the fifth year in a row and is under unprecedented strain as more countries than ever before imprisoning internet users for peaceful political, social, or religious discourse. 
According to the research, officials in at least 20 countries have suspended internet access, and 21 states have prohibited access to social media platforms. China was ranked as the worst country for internet freedom for the sixth year in a row. 

Threats of this nature, however, come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Turkey's new social media regulations, for instance, require platforms with over a million daily users to remove content deemed offensive within 48 hours of being notified, or risk escalating penalties including fines, advertising bans and bandwidth limits. Russia, meanwhile, added to the existing labyrinth of regulations that international tech companies must navigate in the country, according to Freedom House.

Overall online freedom in the U.S. also declined for the fifth consecutive year; the group said, citing conspiracy theories and misinformation about the 2020 elections as well as surveillance, harassment and arrests in response to racial injustice protests.

Big Tech companies have generally agreed to abide by country-specific rules for content takedowns and other issues to operate in these countries. That can range from blocking posts about Holocaust denial in Germany and elsewhere in Europe where they're illegal to outright censorship of opposition parties, as in Russia.

The app's expulsion was widely denounced by opposition politicians. Leonid Volkov, a top strategist to jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, wrote on Facebook that the companies bent on the Kremlin's blackmail.
Navalny's ally Ivan Zhdanov said on Twitter that the politician's team is considering suing the two companies. He also mocked the move: Expectations: the government turns off the internet. Reality: the internet, in fear, turns itself off.

The fallout may cause one or both corporations to rethink their plans to operate in Russia. In 2010, Google made a similar choice, pulling its search engine from mainland China when the Communist government there began restricting search results and YouTube videos. Russia isn't a big market for Apple, which is predicted to make around USD 370 billion this year, or Google's parent company, Alphabet, which is expected to make around USD 250 billion this year. Profits, however, are profits.

If you are want to take a principled stand on human rights and freedom of expression, then there are some hard choices you have to make on when you should leave the market," said Kurt Opsahl, general counsel for digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation.