Google and Apple removed a voting app promoted by supporters of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny from their app stores Friday, the day Russian parliamentary elections begin.
The tech companies removed the Smart Voting app, promoted by supporters of Navalny and designed to provide information to Russian voters as well as messages from Navalny, early Friday morning, according to The New York Times. Russian officials had approached the tech companies Thursday and threatened them with large fines unless they deleted the app, according to Reuters.
Google removed the app after Russian officials threatened its employees with criminal prosecution, a person familiar with the matter told The New York Times. Ivan Zhdanov, a supporter of Navalny living in exile, tweeted a letter allegedly from Apple to another Navalny supporter informing him the app had been deleted due to it containing “content that is illegal in Russia.
“Removing the Navalny app from stores is a shameful act of political censorship. Russia’s authoritarian government and propaganda will be thrilled,” Zhdanov tweeted.
Polls will remain open until Sunday.
Apple and Google did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
— Ivan Zhdanov (@ioannZH) September 17, 2021
Russian officials confirmed the removal of the apps and praised the tech companies’ actions, according to The Moscow Times.
“Both platforms received a notification and they have apparently decided [to remove the app in accordance with the letter and spirit of the law,” Dmitri Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said in a press conference, according to the Moscow Times.
Russia banned parties linked to Navalny in June, classifying them as “extremist.” Navalny is currently jailed in Russia.
Apple’s decision to remove the voting app conflicts with previous statements it has made on the importance of democracy. Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook criticized Georgia’s election laws in an April interview with Axios as threatening the right to vote, arguing that it should be “easier than ever” for citizens to go to the polls.
Cook also criticized religious freedom laws passed in Indiana, calling them “pro-discrimination” and arguing they “rationalize injustice” in an op-ed for The Washington Post.
Google’s Senior Vice President for Global Affairs Kent Walker also voiced his opposition to Georgia’s voting laws, characterizing them as “efforts to restrict voting at the local level.” Google and its subsidiary YouTube have repeatedly been accused of censoring and suppressing politically conservative content in the U.S., most notably moderating certain videos of conservative commentator Dennis Prager.
Both Apple and Google removed an app that let Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters track police following pressure from China in 2019.
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