As Russian Elections Begin, Google, Apple Remove Navalny App from Stores

Photo credit: AP / TASS

As Russia goes to the polls on Friday (17 September) to elect a new parliament, Alphabet’s Google and Apple announced they have removed the Navalny tactical voting app from their stores, Euractive reports.

Moscow has demanded the app removal from stores earlier this month, warning US tech giants that its refusal would be treated as meddling in Russia’s parliamentary election.

It stressed that the behavior of foreign IT platforms hinders the free expression of will of Russian citizens and hence represents a direct foreign interference in the elections.

They warned that the so-called ‘smart voting’ project and the Navalny app on Apple and Google stores were developed and promoted by the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) – labeled as a foreign agent in Russia – and individuals affiliated with it.

The allies of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, Putin’s fiercest domestic opponent, were preparing to use the app- that gives people detailed recommendations on who to vote for in an effort to thwart the electoral chances of the ruling party- to organise a tactical voting campaign against United Russia that is expected to win the elections.

Navalny’s press secretary Kira Yarmish, has called the decision to remove Navalny’s app from Google Play shameful and huge disappointment and pointed it amounted to political censorship that can’t be justified.

In light of the accusations of election meddling, Google and Apple representatives were invited to a meeting with the Russian Federation Council’s Commission on Protecting State Sovereignty and Preventing Interference in the Domestic Affairs of the Russian Federation.

Its head Vladimir Dzhabarov warned on Thursday that specific crimes are being committed virtually with the participation of Apple and Google, and that its scale may only grow in the coming days.

Though its decision followed that meeting, Apple and Google did not comment the removal of the app from their stores.

Meanwhile, Russian lower house lawmaker Vasily Piskarev said that US tech giants have been practically caught red-handed breaching the Russian national legislation about elections spreading election campaign materials that were paid from funds created abroad in violation of law.

Commenting on the discussion about actions of Apple and Google held in the Russian upper house of parliament, Piskarev stressed that the West has received a clear signal that the use of IT platforms is unacceptable to meddle in Russian elections.

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