Apple and Google removed the opposition-run “Smart Voting” app advising supporters on how to vote out Kremlin allies as polled opened across Russia last Friday.
Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny accused Google and Apple Thursday of acting as the Kremlin’s “accomplices” after the companies removed his voting app during the country’s parliamentary election last week.
“If something surprised me in the latest elections, it was not how (President Vladimir) Putin forged the results, but how obediently the almighty Big Tech turned into his accomplices,” Navalny said on Twitter.
Navalny allies accused the tech giants of “censorship.”
The jailed Kremlin critic said the tech giants were run by “cowardly and greedy” people.
“They tell us about ‘making the world a better place’, but on the inside they are liars and hypocrites,” he said.
Navalny also said he was “terribly upset and disappointed” with Pavel Durov, the head of the Telegram messaging app. The Smart Voting bot also disappeared from the app during the election.
Russia-born Durov had said he was following Apple and Google, which “dictate the rules of the game to developers like us.”
Sources familiar with Google and Apple’s decision said the move was taken under pressure from Russian authorities, including threats to arrest local staff of the tech giant.
The Kremlin welcomed the move, saying the tech giants had conformed with “the letter and spirit” of Russian law.
The Russian opposition accused authorities of mass voter fraud after the three-day vote in which the ruling United Russia party won a sweeping majority.
The election came after a sweeping crackdown on Putin’s opponents.
Navalny, who was detained in January and has seen his allies arrested or flee the country and his organizations banned, had nonetheless tried to dent the Kremlin’s grip on parliament from behind bars.
Telegram Messenger Blocks Navalny Bot During Russian Election
Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s “Smart Voting” bot has disappeared from the Telegram messenger app following similar moves by Apple and Google on Friday at the start of a three-day parliamentary vote in Russia.
The bot, which instructed Navalny supporters which candidate they should back to unseat Kremlin-aligned politicians, was removed after Telegram announced it would “limit the functioning of bots associated with election campaigns.”
Telegram’s Russia-born founder Pavel Durov said he was following Apple and Google, which “dictate the rules of the game to developers like us.”
In a post on his Telegram channel, he said the tech giants had “already this year” urged the encrypted messenger widely popular in Russia to remove information that violates the laws of individual countries or face exclusion from their app stores.
He said that removing election-related bots was related to Russia’s ban on campaigning during voting.
“We consider this practice legitimate and urge Telegram users to respect it,” Durov wrote late Friday.
But he added that “the blocking of applications by Apple and Google creates a dangerous precedent that will affect freedom of speech in Russia and around the world.”
The election for seats in the lower house State Duma, which runs until Sunday, comes after a sweeping crackdown this year on President Vladimir Putin’s opponents.
Navalny, who was detained in January and has seen his allies arrested or flee the country and his organisations banned, has nonetheless aimed to dent the Kremlin’s grip on parliament from behind bars.
His allies on Friday accused Apple and Google of “censorship”, while sources told AFP that the companies had faced public threats from the Russian government and private threats of serious criminal charges and incarceration of local staff.
After Telegram removed the “Smart Voting” bot, a Twitter account associated with Navalny posted links to Google Docs with recommended candidates, saying they were their last “remaining” tools.