Russia Demands Google Cease Sending YouTube Push Notifications For Protest Livestreams

Russian police detaining a protester on Aug. 10, 2019 in Moscow. (Photo: AP)

Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor) has demanded that Google cease promoting livestreams of demonstrations with push notifications, a day after “tens of thousands” of Russians “staged what observers called the country’s biggest political protest for eight years on Saturday,” Reuters reported.

In a statement, Roskomnadzor warned Google that in the event they do not receive a response, the “Russian Federation will regard this as interference in the sovereign affairs of the state, as well as a hostile influence and obstructing the holding of democratic elections in Russia, leaving the right to an adequate reaction.”

The agency characterised Google as promoting “illegal mass events” by allowing “a number of structures with YouTube channels” to use advertising tools including push notifications. But as Al Jazeera noted, the protest, which apparently directed the agency’s ire towards Google (with organisers claiming some streams reached 50,000 people or more), was approved by the Russian government.

While the protests originated in complaints specific to the Moscow region such as alleged blacklisting of some opposition politicians from running in city council elections, they have steadily expanded to include a number of nationwide issues f— such as President Vladimir Putin and his administration’s handling of the economy and declining living standards.

Of additional concern to the government is that some of Russia’s “most famous internet celebrities and musicians” have urged their millions of followers to join the demonstrators, according to the Wall Street Journal. Authorities have responded in several ways, including by threatening participants in the rallies with expulsion from universities or having court bailiffs check on the personal debts of those arrested, the paper added:

Moscow hasn’t seen demonstrations of this scale since numerous marches between 2011 and 2013, when police largely stood idly by, allowing activists to rally against election fraud in a 2011 parliamentary vote and a 2012 poll that re-elected Mr. Putin to the presidency after four years as prime minister.

This time, however, Russian authorities have been eager to stop the demonstrations as soon as possible to prevent them from piggybacking on other issues that have raised discontent in Russia, including falling living standards and endemic corruption. Support for Mr. Putin has fallen to 64% earlier this year, its lowest since 2013, though it has since recovered to 68%, according to Levada Center, a Moscow-based independent pollster.

Google has faced pressure from Roskomnadzor before, including laws requiring search engines to delete some results (with Google being ordered to cough up around $11,298 in 2018 for non-compliance). That year Google also removed YouTube videos uploaded by opposition leader Alexei Navalny, though the government’s official rationale was that the videos violated laws prohibiting campaigning in the day before an election.

At the time, Google’s Russian division issued a statement saying that it will “consider all justified appeals from state bodies” and that it requires advertisers “to act in accordance with the local law and our advertising policies.”

Additionally, Roskomnadzor’s bungled attempt to ban encrypted messaging service Telegram last year resulted in the agency blocking millions of Amazon and Google IP addresses. Major disruption to Russian internet services lasted for weeks. The agency also demanded that Apple and Google remove Telegram from their respective app stores.

In other Russian tech news, Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service said last week that it was investigating Apple on antitrust grounds after it prevented security firm Kapersky Labs from introducing an app with certain parental control features.

While Apple eventually backed down, according to the New York Times, Russian officials reviewing Kapersky’s complaint “concluded that Apple had rejected the app, which it had previously approved, and set unclear requirements for app developers.”

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