Berkeley, Calif. – The big tech companies operating around the world have long pledged to abide by local laws and protect civil rights while doing business. But when Apple and Google recognize Russia’s claim and remove an anti-political app from their local app store, it raises concerns that two of the world’s most successful companies are bowing to undemocratic orders and maintaining a steady stream of profits. Uphold the rights of their users.
The app, known as Smart Vote, was a tool to organize opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of the weekend election. A ban on the world’s richest and most powerful companies last week encouraged supporters of free elections and free expression.
“This is bad news for democracy and dissent around the world,” said Natalia Krapiva, tech legal adviser at Access Now, an Internet freedom group. “We hope other dictators will mimic Russia’s strategy.”
From search to social media to apps, technology companies providing consumer services have long walked the hard way in many of the world’s less democratic countries. Apple, Google and other big companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook have become more powerful over the past decade, so they have a government ambition to harness that power for their own needs.
“Now it’s a poster child of political persecution,” said Sasha Mainrath, a professor at Penn State University who studies online censorship. Google and Apple “have strengthened the possibility of this happening again.”
Neither Apple nor Google responded to a request for comment from the Associated Press when news of Apple’s removal spread last week; Both were silent this week.
Google has denied access to two documents on its online service Google Docs, which lists candidates approved by Smart Voting, and blocked similar videos on YouTube.
Apple, meanwhile, offers a higher “commitment to human rights” on its website, although a closer look at the statement reveals that the company will abide by government when legal government orders and human rights are in conflict. Where national law and international human rights standards differ, we follow higher standards, “where they are in conflict, we respect national law while respecting internationally recognized human rights principles.”
A recent report by the nonprofit Freedom House in Washington found that global Internet freedom has declined for the fifth year in a row and is under “unprecedented pressure” as more countries arrest Internet users “for non-violent political, social or religious discourse.” Authorities have suspended Internet access in at least 20 countries and blocked access to social media platforms in 21 states, the report said.
For the seventh year in a row, China has topped the list as the worst environment for Internet freedom. But such threats take different forms. Turkey’s new social media rules, for example, require a platform with more than one million users per day to remove “offensive” content within 48 hours of receiving a notification, or to increase fines, including fines, advertising bans and bandwidth restrictions.
According to Freedom House, Russia has already added to the existing “maze of regulation that international technology companies have to operate in the country”. Online freedom in the United States as a whole has also declined for the fifth year in a row, the group said, in response to allegations of so-called conspiracy theories and misinformation about the 2020 election, as well as racial-injustice due to surveillance, harassment and arrest.
Large tech companies have generally agreed to work in these countries to remove content and comply with country-specific rules for other issues. This could lead to the blocking of Holocaust denial posts in Germany and elsewhere in Europe where they are illegal, leading to complete censorship of opposition parties such as Russia.
Opposition politicians have strongly condemned the app’s expulsion. Leonid Volkov, a top strategist for jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, wrote on Facebook that the companies were “leaning towards the Kremlin’s blackmail.”
Navalny’s aide Ivan Zhadanov said on Twitter that a group of politicians was considering filing a lawsuit against the two companies. He also ridiculed the move: “Expectations: The government shuts down the Internet. Reality: The Internet, in fear, shuts itself down.
It is possible that the blockback could prompt both or both companies to reconsider their commitment to operating in Russia. Google made a similar decision in 2010 when it removed its search engine from mainland China after censorship of search results and videos on YouTube after the communist regime.
Russia is not a big market for Apple, whose annual revenue is expected to be close to 37 370 billion, nor is Google’s corporate guardian, Alphabet, whose revenue is expected to reach 250 250 billion this year. But profit is profit.
“If you want to take a policy stand on human rights and freedom of expression, you have to make some tough decisions about when to get out of the market,” said Kurt Upsal, general counsel at the Digital Rights Group Electronic Frontier Foundation. .
This News Originally From – The Epoch Times