The Russian government has been increasingly blunt in recent days about its willingness to use threats of arrest to prevent use of the app.
“With the participation of Apple and Google, specific crimes are committed, the scale of which can only increase in the coming days”, declared Thursday Vladimir Dzhabarov, member of the upper house of the Russian Parliament. “Those who contribute to the evasion of liability of their parent companies in the territory of the Russian Federation will be punished. “
It remains to be seen whether Friday’s concession by Apple and Google will turn into a watershed moment as America’s tech giants stand ready to withstand pressure from the Kremlin. Amid Russia’s crackdown on dissent this year, Silicon Valley’s most popular platforms have remained freely accessible, allowing journalists and activists to continue to get their message out. On YouTube, for example, Team Navalny’s investigations into the corruption of the Russian elite regularly garner millions of views.
But Friday’s move could encourage the Kremlin as well as governments elsewhere to use the threat of suing employees to leverage companies. It presents a test of Silicon Valley ideals around free speech and an open Internet, balanced not only against profit but against the safety of their workers.
Deletions of Facebook and Twitter posts, YouTube videos, and other internet content happen quite regularly as businesses seek to comply with local laws around the world. In China, Apple has removed apps that counter government censors, including software that would allow Chinese users to access the open global Internet. A 2016 court ruling in Russia led Apple and Google to remove LinkedIn from their app stores after LinkedIn failed to comply with a law requiring data on Russian users to be stored within the country’s borders. country.
But Friday’s deletions by Google and Apple have little precedent given election issues and Mr Navalny’s high-profile campaign against the Kremlin, said Natalia Krapiva, legal adviser to Access Now, a civil society group. tracking down internet censorship. “It’s really a new phenomenon to attack app stores,” Ms. Krapiva said.
While companies would prefer to be seen as impartial platforms, Ms. Krapiva said industry leaders should speak out more forcefully to defend free speech and an open internet, especially if employees across the Internet company were threatened with criminal prosecution.