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11 Oct 2021

Todd Prince,
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Russia: Apple and Google draw criticism for removing election app created by opposition leader Aleksei Navalny

Navalny App Disappearance Shows Russia's Strength In The Battle Against Big Tech, 22 September 2021

When Apple and Google removed an election app created by jailed Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny from their online stores just as the country's three-day parliamentary vote got under way, his associates were dismayed -- and criticized the U.S. tech giants for giving in to the Kremlin's demands.

There was not much Navalny's allies could do about it, however. And the developments showed that in the battle between the trillion-dollar tech companies and the authoritarian leaders of major economies -- especially those willing to resort to extra-legal means -- the latter may have a stronger position, analysts say.

Russia reportedly raised the possibility of criminal charges against the tech giants' local employees. Given that critics say President Vladimir Putin's government uses trumped-up charges to sideline opponents such as Navalny, that would be a prospect it would be hard to take lightly...

Be that as it may, Internet freedom advocates say the companies must fight as hard as they can because authoritarian regimes around the world are watching what happens in places like Russia...

"While companies are understandably concerned for their in-country staff, they also have a responsibility to respect rights," Deborah Brown, a senior researcher and digital rights advocate at Human Rights Watch, wrote in an article published on September 21...

Neither Apple nor Google immediately responded to e-mails and phone calls from RFE/RL seeking comment...