Under pressure from the government, Apple and Google removed Alexei Navalnys' voting app from their iOS and Android stores. According to the New York Times, this was in response to threats of criminal prosecutions against employees from Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin spokesmen told reporters the app was illegal, and Apple and Google had acted according to the law.
Russian authorities have mounted a persistent campaign against Navalnys' app. This was to mobilize voters against Putins party during Russia's parliamentary elections. An earlier threat by the country's internet censor to fine Apple and Google was made this month. They claimed that the app's continued presence on the market was election interference. Apple temporarily stalled updates to this app, but neither company was able to remove it.
These companies were threatened with penalties earlier in the month
Russian censors have blocked websites that were linked to Navalny. This is part of a wider crackdown against foreign tech companies. Twitter was shut down in Russia after it was accused of failing to remove illegal material. A court also fined Facebook and Telegram for illegal content earlier in the week. TikTok was fined in May for similar offenses. Apple and Google did not immediately respond to our requests for comment.
Apple has been criticised in the past for its removal of media and protest apps from China. Its argument in a privacy dispute over scanning iCloud photos could also be undermined by the Navalny app's removal. Apple claims that the technology will only be used to find child sexual abuse material. However, some skeptics worry that Apple could bow to authoritarian governments and expand it. This is something Apple strongly denies.
Apple's argument for removing voting guides is that they must comply with the laws of the countries they operate in. Yet, if lawmakers demand that they expand their image scanner corpus, they say no, tweeted Matthew Green, a John Hopkins University professor and cryptographer. Green is one of the most vocal critics of the scanning system. They will not break the law in this case.