Succumbing to pressure from the Russian government, Apple has removed the ‘Smart Voting’ app from the Russian App Store. Developed by Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the app was designed to boost candidates with the best chance of succeeding against candidates in the ruling party. The opposition spokesperson calls Apple’s ban “political censorship.” Google has removed the app from Play Store as well.
Threats of fine by the Russian government made Apple remove the opposition’s app
As per AppleInsider report, Russian watchdog group ‘Roskomnadzor’ demanded that Apple and Google remove the opposition leader Navalny’s app because he promotes extremist activity for Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK). In 2011, Navalny founded FBK, a non-profit organization. This year in June, the Moscow City Court declared FBK an extremist organization and liquidated the organization. Apple was recently fined $12 million in the government.
Using that status as the reason for the ban, Apple informed the developer Ivan Zhdanov that his app is removed “because it includes content that is illegal in Russia.” In response Zhdanov wrote on Twitter that;
“Formal reason for removing applications: recognition of FBK [as] an extremist organization,” continues the developer’s tweet. “The way the FBK was recognized as an extremist organization was not a court, but by mockery of common sense. Google, Apple, make a huge mistake.”
Apple tells the Navalny team the reason it removed their Smart Voting app is because the Navalny orgs have been declared extremist by the government. Truly outrageous compliance with authoritarian bullshit. https://t.co/6G5tNc8wom
— Ilya Lozovsky (@ichbinilya) September 17, 2021
This is not the first time the tech giant has complied with the Russian government’s requests. iPhone users in Russia see apps approved by the government on the App Store. A new law passed by the Russian Ministry of Digital Affairs on consumer protection made it mandatory for manufacturers in the country to sell all smart devices with pre-installed apps including social media, services, antivirus, and others. Now, the Russian App Store shows a prompt to iPhone users when initially configuring the smartphone to install government approve apps.
This concession was made by Apple against its policy of not allowing third-party pre-installed apps on the iPhone. The Cupertino tech giant says that its regional operation complies with local laws but it has more than once fulfilled wishes of authoritarian governments. In 2020, it removed 39,000 apps from the Chinese App Store over licensing issues. This should make consumers question the company’s commitment to protecting their privacy by deterring exploitation of features like CSAM detection by governments.