Russia’s state communications regulator Roskomnadzor has filed legal cases against both Google and Meta over their respective failures to remove “banned content” from their platforms.

According to Reuters, Roskomnadzor’s case against the two American tech giants could see a Moscow court impose stiff fines, based on their annual turnover in Russia.

Roskomnadzor has grown increasingly frustrated at the actions of both firms and the (relatively) fines it has imposed so far. In October for example, it threatened to use Russian bailiffs to enforce the collection of 26 million roubles ($361,400) in fines imposed on Facebook for failing to delete content that Russia deems illegal.

Banned content

But as the legal action escalated in Russia, Roskomnadzor threatened both Alphabet’s Google and Meta’s Facebook with fines based on a percentage of their annual turnover in the country.

Roskomnadzor also threatened Google with a slowdown of its services in Russia, over allegations that it had failed to delete what Russia calls ‘unlawful content.’

Russian law allows for companies to be fined between 5 and 10 percent of annual turnover for repeated violations.

It is estimated (although not confirmed) by experts that Facebook’s annual Russian turnover is approximately 12 billion roubles ($165 million). Some observers say Facebook’s Russian turnover could be as high as 39 billion roubles ($538 million).

If Facebook’s Russian turnover is assumed to be $165m, a 10 percent fine could cost Facebook as much as $16.5 million.

However if Facebook’s Russian turnover is more like $538m, then a 10 percent fine could cost it $54m.

And now according to Reuters, Moscow’s Tagansky District Court has said court dates for both companies has been set for 24 December.

Russian clampdown

It is no secret that Russia has ramped pressure on foreign tech firms in the past year, using a combination of punitive fines or slowing down their services.

In September Russia threatened to block YouTube in the country, after Google’s streaming division deleted the German-language channels of state-backed broadcaster RT (formerly Russia Today).

RT is a Russian state-controlled television network funded by the federal tax budget of the Russian government.

Earlier this year, Roskomnadzor wrote to Facebook and other social media firms to demand they remove posts containing calls for minors to participate in anti-government protests after the arrest of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

That pressure led Google and Apple to remove Navalny’s anti-government tactical voting app from their stores on the first day of a parliamentary election in September.

And since March this year, the Russian government has used deep-packet inspection (DPI) technology to slowdown users’ access to Twitter.

Russia then extended this Twitter slowdown.

Russia has also passed a number of restrictive laws governing the online world, not least of which was its so called ‘Sovereign Internet’ law that enables Russia to be cut off from the global Internet.

Google so far has paid more than 32 million roubles ($435,000) in fines this year.

Russia has also demanded that 13 foreign and mostly US technology companies be officially represented on Russian soil by the end of 2021 or face possible restrictions or outright bans.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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