Russia Fines Google $100m Over Banned Content

A Russian court has fined Google nearly $100 million (£75m) over what it termed “systematic failure to remove banned content”, the largest penalty the country has imposed on a Western tech company to date.

The fine was based on Google’s annual turnover in the country.

Russian internet regulator Roskomnadzor said Google’s turnover for 2020 in the country was greater than 85 billion rubles, or about $1.15bn.

Facebook and Instagram parent company Meta Platforms was fined about $27m several hours after the Google decision, also for declining to remove banned content.

Crackdown

Meta’s fine was also based on its turnover.

The fines come amidst increasingly strict regulation of the internet in Russia, which is tightening its rules on what it deems illegal content, including apps, websites, videos and other materials related to jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, which has been labelled extremist in the country.

Navalny’s popular videos on corruption in President Vladimir Putin’s government can still be viewed on YouTube, which is owned by Google.

Google’s press service said it would study the court documents before deciding on its next steps, such as whether it would appeal the decision. It has 10 days to appeal.

Google, Meta and other tech companies are regularly fined in Russia, but those fines have rarely exceeded $1m.

Before the latest court decision Google had been fined a total of about $500,000 for failing to remove about 2,600 items of content deemed illegal, Roskomnadzor said.

Censorship

Alexander Plushev, a journalist for the popular Echo of Moscow radio, said on his Telegram channel the ruling may indicate a “political decision to expel Western services from Russia”.

During an end-of-year press conference last week, Putin said the government would not block or slow down internet companies’ services, but could be “forced to up our demands” in the “interests of the Russian society”.

From 1 January foreign tech companies will be forced to open local offices in Russia if they have websites with more than 500,000 daily visitors from the country, a decision criticised by rights activists, who say this could be used to pressure firms into censoring content.

The Washington Post reported that Google received threats against staff located in the country over Navalny’s Smart Voting app, which was removed from Apple and Google’s app stores in September.

Last week Russia fined Twitter 3 million roubles ($40,920) over failure to remove content, after slowing down the speed of the service in March.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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