Google, Apple remove app to boost protest vote in Russia

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The person declined to be identified for fear of angering the Russian government.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday, “This app is illegal” when asked about it during his regular call with reporters. “The two platforms have been notified and according to the law they have taken these decisions, it seems,” he said.

Apple did not respond to requests for comment on the availability of the Navalny app in its store.

The app disappeared just as voting began in the three-day parliamentary elections, in which Navalny’s team hoped to use their app – called ‘Navalny’ – to consolidate the opposition vote in each of the 225. electoral constituencies of Russia.

“Removing the Navalny app from stores is a shameful act of political censorship,” Navalny collaborator Ivan Zhdanov said on Twitter. “Russia’s authoritarian government and propaganda will be delighted. “

The threat to sue local workers is an escalation by the Kremlin that seeks to influence Western tech giants to align themselves with a broader internet crackdown. The country’s internet regulator, Roskomnadzor, has repeatedly demanded that companies remove certain content, or face fines or restrictions on access to their products. Government Says US Internet Companies Interfering in Russian Internal Affairs by Allowing Anti-Kremlin Activists to Use Their Platforms Freely; Navalny’s movement was banned as an extremist this summer.

The Russian government has been increasingly blunt in recent days about its willingness to use threats to prevent the 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 help evade the responsibility of their parent companies in the territory of the Russian Federation will be punished. “

Bailiffs visited Google offices earlier this week to enforce court-ordered measures against the protest voting campaign, state media reported.

Russian authorities have been pressuring Apple and Google for weeks to remove Team Navalny’s voting app. With Navalny’s websites blocked in Russia, the app has become a loophole allowing allies in exile of the imprisoned politician to continue to reach large audiences. Almost all smartphones run Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android operating system, making their app stores the key artery for making any product to the public.

The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned US Ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan last week and announced that America’s “digital giants” had broken Russian law “in connection with the preparation and conduct of elections ”.

“The patience of the Russian side, which has so far refrained from erecting barriers to American affairs in Russia, is not unlimited,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned Thursday. .

The “Navalny” app is at the heart of a protest voting strategy that the Leader of the Opposition calls “smart voting”. Elections in Russia are not free and fair, but the Kremlin always seeks the sparkle of popular legitimacy by holding elections in which a stable of lackluster parties typically divide the opposition vote.

The Navalny strategy, deployed for the first time at the regional level in 2019, seeks to turn this system of “managed democracy” against Putin. The goal is to defeat as many candidates representing the ruling United Russia party as possible by having all opposition voters in each constituency choose the same challenger, whether or not they agree with their views. The “Navalny” application coordinates the process, asks for a user’s address and responds with the name of the candidate for whom they must vote.

The Navalny team said on Friday they would seek to obtain the names of their “smart voting” picks through other methods, such as automated responses in the Telegram messaging app. But they expressed their anger at Apple and Google for apparently bowing to pressure from the Kremlin.

“That shameful day will go down in history for a long time,” Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s longtime chief of staff, wrote on his Telegram account.

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