In Russia, Apple and Google employees are strengthening their muscles by the state

earlier this month, When the Kremlin asked several big tech companies to crack down on political dissent in the country elections In Russia, their answer was unequivocal: no. Only two weeks later, Apple and Google Deleted From their app stores Smart Voting, opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his party’s primary tool for uniting votes against Vladimir Putin’s regime. Then Telegram and YouTube owned by Google too specific Access to recommendations for opposition candidates that Navalny shared on these platforms. It was Putin, of course ecstatic.

The sudden bend in the knee of American technology platforms has not only damaged the opposition’s ability to communicate with the Russian people. It also points to the dangerous effectiveness of the new Kremlin’s policy: forcing foreign tech companies to put employees on the ground, so that they can then be coerced and threatened to do what the Kremlin demands. For all the world’s politicians and analysts discussing internet censorship technically, this episode is a powerful reminder that ancient power can decisively tighten the state’s grip on the web.

Putin’s regime has always relied on bullying for repression, from beating protesters and Loser Navalny assassination attempt Prison He was still recovering from the poisoning. So it is not surprising after the Navy was imprisoned Mass Nationwide protests that the Kremlin will try to control all potential election risks, including through heavily armed US tech companies.

One of Putin’s biggest goals has been Navalny’s Smart Voting Project, which has had success over the past two years in disseminating recommendations of candidates to voters interested in taking parliamentary seats away from Putin’s ruling party, United Russia. Hence the absurdity of the Russian Internet regulator the demand That US tech platforms are censoring smart voting. Russian mobile network providers were able to block Russia’s full access to Google Docs, simply because Navalny’s team has published a document listing United Russia competitors. But when Apple and Google resisted removing the opposition app, the system turned from code to muscle.

In July, Putin Occurred A law obligating foreign IT companies operating in the Russian market to open offices in the country. The Kremlin might say this is meant to ensure compliance with Russia’s national security laws, but it’s really about dumping bodies on the ground for bullying. Not every platform has built a store yet (Twitter is still holding up), but Apple and Google have. So when they do not comply with the demands of censorship, the Kremlin I sent Gunmen sit in Google’s offices in Moscow for hours. Russian parliament too summoned Representatives from both Google and Apple offices to a session on the Navalny app, where they were reprimanded and threatened. Government It said It named the specific Google employees it would prosecute if the company didn’t delete the app, and the same reasonably applies to Apple.

The next morning, both companies folded and removed Smart Voting from their app stores. Apple also gave up deactivation Special relay in Russia, advantage designer To ensure that when browsing the Internet with Safari, no entity can see who the user is and what they are viewing. This undoubtedly enhanced Russia’s (already powerful) FSB ability to spy on citizens’ Internet traffic. YouTube, which was widely used by the opposition in Russia permission Removal A video clip in which Navalny’s camp lists the names of prominent opposition candidates, and Telegram has blocked access to Navalny’s electoral services.

The disaster exposes the misinformation of decades of American rhetoric about ‘internet freedom’ Paid The view that Western technology companies operating in authoritarian countries will lead to democracy. During the Arab Spring, for example, many American critics ignore him The Importance From local blogging and citizen organizing to describe the movements as a “Twitter revolution”. 2010 Speech By US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the ways in which authoritarian regimes use the Internet to their advantage but still reflects the prevailing view that more Western technology in dictatorships would enhance ‘freedom’. In other statements to the contrary, it was the physical presence of these companies in Russia that made them vulnerable to Putin’s will.

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