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Apple and Google Remove ‘Navalny’ Voting App in Russia

  • September 17, 2021

The Navalny team on Friday sought to get the names of their “smart-voting” picks out by other methods, such as automated responses in the messaging app Telegram.

But late in the evening, Telegram — a Russian-founded service popular with opposition-minded users in authoritarian countries around the world — announced it was taking down the account providing those picks. It was not immediately clear if Telegram had come under government pressure, as well.

Maintaining open, uncensored access to their services, especially in authoritarian countries, is becoming one of the most vexing challenges for American tech companies like Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter. In countries such as India, Myanmar and Turkey, the authorities are increasingly pressuring the companies to censor certain political speech, or ordering internet outages to block access to the web.

Civil society groups have warned that forcing the companies to conform to a patchwork of laws and regulations risks creating a more fractured internet, where access to information and products will depend on where people are. The companies must weigh the value of having their services available in a country like Russia, where they are seen as more independent than local technology platforms, against the costs of leaving altogether, as Google has done in China.

The pressure on Silicon Valley to block certain content on their platforms is not just coming from more authoritarian governments. In the United States and Europe, policymakers want the companies to do more to address hate speech, misinformation and other toxic content. Republicans in the United States argue that they are being censored online.

In Russia, the national internet regulator, Roskomnadzor, has repeatedly demanded that the companies remove certain content, on pain of fines or restrictions on access to their products. The government says that American internet companies are meddling in Russia’s domestic affairs by allowing anti-Kremlin activists to use their platforms freely.

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