Google, Apple Pull Navalny App from Stores at Kremlin’s Urging

An illustration picture shows a smartphone screen displaying the "Smart Voting" - jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny's app that aims to help Russians to vote out candidates from the ruling United Russia party in the upcoming polls, in Moscow on September 16, 2021. - President Vladimir Putin on September 16, …
NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP via Getty Images

Russia’s government on Friday praised Google and Apple for removing a “tactical voting app” designed by Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and his team ahead of the country’s legislative election.

“Both platforms received a notification and they have apparently decided [to delete the Navalny app] in accordance with the letter and spirit of the law,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters at a regular press briefing on September 17.

“We dislike [the app]. This is just another absolutely provocative attempt that actually harms voters. There’s no other way of treating this,” Peskov said, as quoted by Russia’s Interfax news agency.

The smartphone app in question, dubbed “Smart Voting” by Navalny’s team, “listed recommended candidates for its supporters to cast their ballots in favor of in order to oust incumbents from the pro-Putin ruling United Russia party during the Sept. 17-19 poll,” the Moscow Times observed Friday, referring to the ruling party of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

BERLIN, GERMANY - JANUARY 23: Protesters hold a banner reading "FREE NAVALNY" as some 2,500 supporters of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny march in protest to demand his release from prison in Moscow on January 23, 2021 in Berlin, Germany. The protesters marched from the federal chancellery through the Russian embassy to Brandenburg Gate in part also heeding a call by Navalny to protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Navalny, who was arrested earlier this week upon his return to Moscow from Germany, has called for protests against Putin across Russia, though Russian authorities have refused to allow them and deemed the protests illegal. Berlin is home to a large expatriate Russian community. (Photo by Omer Messinger/Getty Images)

Protesters hold a banner reading “FREE NAVALNY” as some 2,500 supporters of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny march in protest to demand his release from prison in Moscow on January 23, 2021, in Berlin, Germany. Navalny, who was arrested earlier this week upon his return to Moscow from Germany, has called for protests against Putin across Russia, though Russian authorities have refused to allow them and deemed the protests illegal. (Photo by Omer Messinger/Getty Images)

Navalny’s allies “planned to use the mobile app to organize a tactical voting campaign to deal a blow to United Russia,” Reuters noted on Friday.

U.S. tech giants Google and Apple removed Navalny’s app from their online stores in Russia on September 17 after the Kremlin successfully campaigned for the action.

“On September 6, Roskomnadzor announced that the ‘Smart Voting’ project was blocked in Russia, as its website is being used to continue the activities of FBK (the Anti-Corruption Fund created by Navalny),” Interfax recalled on September 17. Roskomnadzor is Russia’s federal service for the supervision of communications, information technology, and mass media. The Kremlin officially recognizes Navalny’s FBK organization as a “foreign agent” and has banned its operation within Russia.

“This application is illegal in our country,” Peskov said at Friday’s press briefing, referring to Navalny’s “Smart Voting” app.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with US President Joe Biden prior to the US-Russia summit at the Villa La Grange, in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with US President Joe Biden prior to the US-Russia summit at the Villa La Grange, in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

According to the Kremlin, Google and Apple “provided capabilities to bypass the blocking of the ‘Smart Voting’ site and its mobile application” after Russia’s government halted the operations of the two entities on September 6. Responding to the U.S. tech giants’ alleged interference with Navalny’s app, Roskomnadzor on September 9 ordered the companies to stop providing support to the foreign agent-designated group.

“The officials promised to regard the failure to comply with these requirements as interference in the Duma [national legislature] elections from abroad,” Interfax noted on Friday.

“On September 16, the deputy head of Roskomnadzor, Vadim Subbotin, announced that companies could be fined if they refuse to remove the application from their stores,” according to the Russian news agency. “On the same day, lawyers representing Google and Apple attended a meeting of the Federation Council Commission for the Protection of State Sovereignty.”

Apple and Google finally deleted the “Smart Voting” app from their online stores 24 hours later.

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