It is being reported that an app designed by allies of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, has been pulled by Apple and Google from their stores. Reports emerged that the app no longer appeared in their online stores on Friday, just in time for the country’s parliamentary elections this weekend.
The Associated Press reported that the decision came after Apple and Google representatives were invited to meet at the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’s parliament, on Thursday. Following the meeting, the council said they had reached an agreement with Apple who recognized repeated demands from authorities to remove the app amid concerns of election tampering.
Google also removed the app as it faced legal demands by regulators and threats of criminal prosecution in Russia. According to a source with direct knowledge of the matter, Russian police officers visited Google’s offices in Moscow on Monday with a court order to block the app.
Both companies came under pressure from Russian officials to remove the app which features Smart Voting; they said failure to comply would be interpreted as meddling with the parliamentary election. It is also believed officials threatened the firms with fines.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday that the presidential administration “definitely, of course” welcomes the companies’ decision to remove the app, as it comes in compliance with Russian laws. Peskov said that the app was “outside the law” in Russia.
Navalny is currently serving a two and a half year prison sentence for violating parole over a previous conviction which he claims is politically motivated, his top allies also received criminal charges. Many have left the country. Recent months have seen authorities clamping down on Navalny’s allies that remain and they have placed a massive focus on suppressing Smart Voting.
Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption, as well as a network of regional offices, have been outlawed as extremist organizations. While 50 websites run by Navalny’s allies have been blocked.
Navalny’s team also created a Smart Voting chatbot on the messaging app Telegram and published a list of candidates Smart Voting endorses in Google Docs and on YouTube. Western tech giants, such as Twitter, Facebook and Google, have come under pressure from the Russian government over their role in magnifying defiance. The authorities have accused the platforms of allegedly failing to remove calls for protests, and levied hefty fines against them.
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A close ally of Navalny, Ivan Zhdanov, tweeted a screenshot on Friday which appears to be an email from Apple confirming the removal of the app from their store.
Формальное основание удаления приложений: признание ФБК экстремистской организацией.
То, как ФБК признавали экстремистской организацией – было не судом, а издевательством над здравым смыслом. @google @Apple совершают огромную ошибку. pic.twitter.com/3AG4tHXdZp
— Ivan Zhdanov (@ioannZH) September 17, 2021
Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s top strategist, believes Google and Apple have “bent to the Kremlin’s blackmail.” He does however specify that the removal does not affect users who had already downloaded the app and reassures them it should remain functional.
Volkov claims that the app ranked 3rd on Google Play in Russia among social networking apps and 4th on the App Store in the same category.
Opinions differ dramatically on each side of the argument. Zhdanov went as far as to say that the removal of the app amounted to political censorship. Alternatively, Peskov insists the Smart Voting app is just “another attempt at provocations that are harmful for the voters.”
Apple and Google took the necessary steps to protect their company’s. It is impossible to say if the removal of the app will affect the results of the polls. The Russian people are just looking for guidance, one civilian at a polling station today told AP that she came to vote because “we were forced (to come and vote) by my work. Frankly speaking. And I also want to know who leads us.”
We will have to wait for the election results to see if the ruling United Russia party remains in control or if Navalny’s allies plan to use the app to organise a tactical voting campaign has been effective.
At this time neither Google or Apple have responded to requests for comment.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: Apple Macbook Pro loaded up with Google browser. Featured Photo Credit: Firmbee.