Apple and Google are being accused of capitulating to pressure from Moscow, after both firms deleted the tactical voting app of Putin critic Alexei Navalny from their online stores.
Both firms had been under significant pressure from Russian authorities in the days before the country’s parliamentary elections to block access to Navalny’s Smart Voting initiative, the Guardian reported.
The tactical voting app is the brainchild of long term Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, and it seeks to channel opposition votes toward the strongest opponents of the ruling party, United Russia.
Alexei Navalny is firmly in the cross-hairs of Russian authorities and President Vladimir Putin, ever since nationwide protests erupted earlier this year in Russia over his arrest and jailing.
Before that, Navalny had survived a brazen assassination attempt, when he was poisoned just before boarding an internal flight in Russia.
He sought treatment in Germany, but was promptly arrested and jailed by the Kremlin when he returned to Russia after surviving that assassination attempt.
Voting for Russia’s parliamentary elections began on Friday, shortly after the respective Navalny apps disappeared from Russia’s app stores belonging to Apple and Google.
Russia had this month demanded that Apple and Google remove the app from their stores, saying a refusal to do so would be treated as meddling in its parliamentary election.
It has used this threat before in 2019.
The Guardian reported that Ivan Zhdanov, a senior adviser to Navalny, posted a letter from Apple that appeared to confirm that company’s decision.
“We are writing to notify you that your application will be removed from the Russia App Store because it includes content that is illegal in Russia,” the note from Apple read. The Navalny organisation had been declared “extremist” in Russia, the note added.
“Removing the Navalny app from stores is a shameful act of political censorship. Russia’s authoritarian government and propaganda will be thrilled,” Zhdanov reportedly wrote.
He also said that Navalny’s team was considering launching a lawsuit against the tech firms.
The Guardian approached Google and Apple for comment.
The Kremlin was quoted as saying on Friday it welcomed the apps’ removal.
Earlier this week Russia published its plan to impose taxes on foreign-owned digital services by November this year.
It comes after Russia’s Duma (Russia’s parliament) in June passed legislation that would oblige US tech giants to open local offices in Russia by January 2022.