Opponents of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party suffered a blow today when both Apple and Google gave in to Russian demands. According to representatives of the imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the companies have complied with government demands 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 it, and opposition efforts to gain ground against Putin’s United Russia party could suffer, reports Reuters.
Russia began a three-day vote on Friday that will fill the country’s parliament. United Russia took a hit in the polls, falling to just 30 percent. Nonetheless, Putin’s party is expected to have the edge. Navalny’s Tactical Voting app was one of the ways the opponents hoped to regain some control. However, Russia banned Navalny’s movement over the summer as “extremist” and gave authorities the opportunity to request the removal of the app.
Sources claim Russian officials threatened to arrest and prosecute certain people who work for Apple and Google in the country. That was supposedly enough for the companies to remove the app, but no one discussed the on-file decision. For its part, the Russian government claims the app is illegal, so they don’t see the problem. Shocker.
With the app no longer in the Apple App Store, there is no way for Russian iPhone users to install it without jailbreaking their phones. The “walled garden” has come under increasing scrutiny lately, with Epic promising to appeal a case in the US designed to force Apple to open the platform. By maintaining its monopoly on iOS software, Apple is essentially supporting the Russian state’s censorship.
Android users in Russia have it a little easier. It’s possible to toggle a few switches in Settings and load apps from third-party sources outside of the Play Store. However, only more technical users will be concerned with it. The opposition’s goal of focusing the votes on the most viable challengers won’t do much good when access to the app is so limited.
The vote will last until the weekend, and Putin’s United Russia party is expected to emerge victorious despite the recent slump in polls. If that happens, it could encourage the government, which has so far turned a blind eye to “illegal” content on other platforms. For example Navalny’s YouTube channel, which receives millions of hits per video.