United Kingdom

Apple and Google under fire for political meddling as they both remove Navalny's app under pressure

Apple and Google have come under fire for political meddling after they both removed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's tactical voting app from their stores under pressure from the Kremlin. 

The move comes as Russians prepared today to elect a new parliament in a three-day election widely presumed to be fixed. 

Allies of Navalny, President Vladimir Putin's fiercest domestic opponent, planned to use the mobile app to organise a tactical voting campaign to deal a blow to United Russia, which is expected to win the election.    

But Russia demanded this month that Apple and Google remove the app from their stores, saying a refusal to do so would be treated as meddling in its parliamentary election. 

Ivan Zhdanov, a Navalny ally based abroad, said today the removal amounted to political censorship and described it as 'a shameful act' that would 'thrill' Russia's 'authoritarian government and propaganda'. The move was welcomed by the Kremlin.  

Apple and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.   

Apple and Google have come under fire for political meddling after they both removed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's tactical voting app from their stores under pressure from the Kremlin

Allies of Navalny planned to use the mobile app (pictured) to organise a tactical voting campaign to deal a blow to United Russia, which is expected to win the election

Russia demanded this month that Apple and Google remove the app from their stores, saying a refusal to do so would be treated as meddling in its parliamentary election

Zhdanov confirmed the news posting a letter from Apple online.  

'We are writing to notify you that your application will be removed from the Russia App Store because it includes content that is illegal in Russia,' it said, citing the  'extremist' designation Navalny's organisation received earlier this year.   

Zhdanov also said his team would considering a legal appeal against the tech firms' decision.    

On Thursday, Russia said official approaches had been made to the two companies' chief executives threatening sizeable fines if they failed to delete the app, which Moscow considers illegal. 

'We will now consider applying turnover fines on those companies that systematically violate Roskomnadzor's demands,' Interfax news agency cited Vadim Subbotin, deputy head of state communications regulator Roskomnadzor, as saying yesterday.     

Subbotin named Facebook, Twitter and Google as some of the firms at risk. 

Roskomnadzor now has 'substantial' tools capable of enforcing the requirements of Russian law, he said, without giving further details.

Both firms were fined earlier this year - Apple was charged $12million for allegedly holding a monopoly in the app market while Google received a rap on the knuckles as regulators demanded social media sites remove content banned in Russia. 

Ivan Zhdanov, a Navalny ally based abroad, (pictured with Navalny's wife Yuliya) said today the removal amounted to political censorship and described it as 'a shameful act' that would 'thrill' Russia's 'authoritarian government and propaganda'

The app disappeared today as Russians prepared to elect a new parliament in a three-day election widely presumed to be fixed (pictured, a woman votes in Krasnoyarsk)

Earlier on Thursday, lawmaker Andrei Klimov said Russian prosecutors had made official approaches to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai on September 9, telling them to stop breaking Russian law by continuing to allow people to access Navalny's banned tactical voting app on their companies' stores.

'(Apple and Google's) actions during Russian elections are seen as illegal and directly linked to interference in Russia's purely domestic affairs,' Interfax cited Klimov as saying.

Company representatives in Russia were warned they could face criminal prosecution if the tech giants failed to comply with Kremlin demands. 

'Entities and persons associated with Apple and Google should realise that the knowingly unlawful actions and criminal inaction demonstrated upon receiving relevant warnings from Russian officials will invariably entail legal consequences, up to criminal prosecution,' Federation Council member Vladimir Dzhabarov yesterday, Interfax reported.

Kremlin officials also pressured the US ambassador, who was told 'the Russian site possesses irrefutable evidence of the violation of the Russians laws by US "digital giants"' before Russia's elections.   

Ruling party United Russia is expected to win this weekend's election despite a ratings slump after the biggest crackdown on the Kremlin's critics in years (pictured, people wait to vote in Krasnoyarsk)

Moscow public election monitoring centre monitor the elections, set to take place over the weekend in Russia

Meanwhile Apple's AppStore suffered an outage earlier this week and GlobalCheck, a group that monitors websites' accessibility in Russia, late on Wednesday said telecoms operators had started blocking access to Google Docs. 

And internet services have come under increasing pressure this week ahead of Russia's September 17-19 parliamentary vote. 

Russia's authorities have said foreign firms are hampering their efforts to block virtual private networks (VPNs) and online resources linked to jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. 

Roskomnadzor has also successfully slowed the speed of Twitter since March, impeded some VPN providers from operating, and last week blocked major domain name system (DNS) services for several hours. 

'Now, Russia is way ahead of China in terms of blocking capabilities,' IT expert Mikhail Klimarev said.

Ruling party United Russia is expected to win this weekend's election despite a ratings slump after the biggest crackdown on the Kremlin's critics in years.   

Football news:

Barcelona will not try to sign Pogba because of Raiola's high salary and commission
A Lazio fan insulted Inter defender Dumfries on racial grounds. The moment got into the broadcast
Coach Anjera: Benzema deserved the Golden Ball. It will be sad if he doesn't get it. Karim is an example of a striker
Gary Neville: Salah can be the best in the world. Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar and Mbappe are not at the same level as before
Sadio Mane: Salah and Firmino are among the best players in the world. I am proud that I scored 100 goals in the Premier League
Manchester United flew to the match with Leicester by plane: the distance is 170 km, the travel time is 10 minutes. The club is criticized for being unecological
Two fans arrested for homophobic chants at the Man City - Burnley match