Berkeley, California Leading technology companies operating around the world have long promised to protect their civil rights in accordance with local law. But when Apple and Google heeded Russia’s demands and removed politically opposing apps from their local app stores, two of the world’s most successful companies succumbed to undemocratic orders and stagnated. There were concerns that it would be more comfortable than just maintaining the flow of profits. Support user rights.
The app in question, called Smart Voting, was a tool to organize protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of the weekend’s elections. Last week, a ban imposed by a pair of the world’s richest and most powerful businesses prompted supporters of free elections and free expression.
“This is bad news for democracy and is being challenged around the world. Other dictators emulate Russian tactics,” said Natalia Krapiva, a technical advocate for Access Now, a free internet group. I look forward to seeing you do it. “
From search to social media to apps, technology companies providing consumer services have long been a tough walker in many of the world’s less democratic countries. As Apple, Google, and other major companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook have strengthened over the past decade, government ambitions have also begun to use that power for their own purposes. ..
“Now it’s a poster child of political repression,” said Sasha Menlas, a professor at Penn State University who studies the issue of online censorship, and that Google and Apple “increased the chances of it happening again.” told.
Neither Apple nor Google responded to requests for comment from the Associated Press when it received news of the app’s removal last week. Both remained silent this week.
According to those who are directly aware of the issue, Google faced legal demands from Russian regulators and was at risk of criminal prosecution against individual employees if they did not comply. The same person said Russian police visited Google’s Moscow office last week to enforce a court order blocking the app. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity for the confidentiality of the matter.
Google’s own employees are said to have blown up the company’s cave in Putin’s power play by posting internal messages and images suggesting the removal of the app.
Such a backlash within Google appears to contrast with the company’s ambitions, with the former corporate motto “Don’t Be Evil” adopted by co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin 23 years ago. , has become more common in recent years. Brin is also a family member who fled the former Soviet Union to the United States as a boy and is now involved in the day-to-day management of Google, a motto that has long been set aside.
Meanwhile, Apple has posted a high “human rights commitment” on its website, but a careful reading of the statement reveals that the company will comply with the government if there is a conflict between government legal orders and human rights. Growth. International human rights standards are different and we adhere to high standards. “If they are in conflict, we will respect domestic law while striving to respect internationally recognized human rights principles.”
Global Internet freedom has declined for the fifth year in a row, with more countries than ever in “nonviolent political, social and religious speech,” according to a recent report by the Washington nonprofit Freedom House. The arrest of an Internet user has caused “unprecedented tension”. The report said authorities have suspended internet access in at least 20 countries and 21 states have blocked access to the social media platform.
For the seventh year in a row, China has topped the list of the worst environments for internet freedom. However, there are many forms of such threats. For example, Turkey’s new social media rules state that content deemed “obnoxious” must be removed within 48 hours of being notified on platforms with more than 1 million users per day. Otherwise, you risk increasing penalties such as fines, advertising restrictions and bandwidth limits.
Meanwhile, Russia has been added to the existing “regulatory maze that international tech companies must navigate domestically,” according to Freedom House. Overall online freedom in the United States has also declined for the fifth year in a row. The group cited conspiracy theories and false information about the 2020 election, as well as surveillance, harassment and arrests in response to racially unfair protests.
Big tech companies generally agree to abide by country-specific regulations regarding content removal and other issues in order to do business in these countries. This can range from blocking posts about Holocaust denial in Germany and elsewhere in Europe to outright censorship of opposition parties such as Russia.
The removal of the app was widely criticized by opposition politicians. Leonid Volkov, the top strategist of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, wrote on Facebook that the two companies had “surrendered to the Kremlin’s blackmail.”
Navalny’s aide Ivan Zhdanov said on Twitter that a team of politicians is considering suing both companies. He also made fun of the move. “Expectations: Government is shutting down the Internet. Reality: The Internet is afraid of shutting down on its own.
The blowback could encourage either or both companies to reconsider their commitment to doing business in Russia. When the Communist government began censoring search results and videos on YouTube, Google made a similar decision in 2010, when Google removed the search engine from mainland China.
Russia is not a major market for Apple, which expects annual sales to reach $370 billion this year, or for Google’s parent company Alphabet, which expects sales to reach $250 billion this year. But profit is profit.
“If you want to take a fundamental position on human rights and freedom of expression, there are few tough choices to leave the market,” said Kurt Opser, corporate attorney at the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation. where did it go. ..
Ortute reported from Oakland, Calif. Associated Press writers Daria Litvinova of Moscow and Kelvin Chan of London contributed to the story.
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