Apple and Google on Friday removed an app intended to coordinate protest voting in this weekend’s Russian elections, The New York Times reports.
The app was created by allies of leading opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, who is currently imprisoned.
The tech giants removed the app from their app stores after Russian officials, who claimed that the app is illegal, threatened to prosecute Apple and Google employees working in the country.
A source familiar with Google’s decision said Russian authorities identified specific individuals they would put on trial, which led to their decision. The company has more than 100 employees working in Russia.
Apple has not commented on the removal.
Navalny’s team alleges censorship:
The app was promoted by Navalny allies to consolidate the opposition vote in each of the country’s electoral districts. President Vladimir Putin’s party is expected to win a majority of seats.
“Removing the Navalny app from stores is a shameful act of political censorship,” Navalny aide Ivan Zhdanov said on Twitter. “Russia’s authoritarian government and propaganda will be thrilled.”
Putin spokesman Dmitri Peskov argued that the app was illegal and that Navalny’s protest movement was banned earlier this year.
“Both platforms have been notified and in accordance with the law they made these decisions, as it seems,” he said.
Worries over Russia’s tech sway:
“This is really a new phenomenon to go after the app stores,” Natalia Krapiva, legal counsel for Access Now, a civil society group tracking internet censorship, told the Times. While tech companies aimed to be impartial platforms, their leaders should speak more forcefully against censorship and prosecutions threats, otherwise “it looks like they are standing with the government,” she said.
Navalny’s team said they would try to coordinate their campaign through other platforms, like the messaging app Telegram.
But they criticized Apple and Google to bowing to Kremlin pressure.
“This shameful day will long remain in history,” Leonid Volkov, Mr. Navalny’s longtime chief of staff, wrote on Telegram.