Opponents of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party took a hit today as both Apple and Google gave in to Russian demands. According to representatives of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the companies have complied with government requests to remove Navalny’s tactical voting app from their stores. That means citizens who have not yet downloaded the app will find it much more difficult (or impossible) to get hold of, and the opposition’s efforts to gain ground against Putin’s United Russia party could be affected. Reuters reports.
On Friday, Russia began a three-day vote that will fill the country’s parliament. United Russia has been hit in polls, dropping to just 30 percent approval. Despite that, Putin’s party is expected to come through. Navalny’s “tactical voting” app was one of the ways opponents hoped to regain some control. However, Russia banned Navalny’s move as “extremist” over the summer, giving authorities the ability to demand the removal of the app.
The sources claim that Russian officials threatened to arrest and prosecute specific people working for Apple and Google in the country. Supposedly, that was enough for the companies to remove the app, but neither has disputed the decision on file. For its part, the Russian government maintains that the application was illegal, so it does not see the problem. Disgusting surprise.
Since the app is no longer on the Apple App Store, Russian iPhone users cannot install it without unlocking their phones. The “walled garden” has come under increasing scrutiny of late, with Epic vowing to appeal a case in the US seeking to force Apple to open the platform. By continuing to maintain its monopoly on iOS software, Apple essentially supports Russian state censorship.
Meanwhile, Android users in Russia have it a bit easier. It is possible to change some switches in the settings and download applications from third-party sources outside of the Play Store. However, only the most technical users will bother with that. The opposition’s goal of focusing votes on the most viable rivals won’t do much good when access to the app is so restricted.
Voting will continue through the weekend and Putin’s United Russia party is expected to emerge victorious even with the recent drop in polls. If that happens, it could embolden the government, which has so far turned a blind eye to “illegal” content on other platforms. Take Navalny’s YouTube channel, for example, which receives millions of views per video.