| 21 April 2024, Sunday |

Russia sentences Google to record fine of €87m

On Friday, Russia fined Google a record 87 million euros for failing to remove “restricted” information, signaling a growing backlash against the tech titans in the nation.

The Russian authorities have tightened their control over the internet in recent years, the only remaining place where critical voices of the Kremlin may talk with relative freedom.

They often censure big digital corporations, particularly foreign companies, accused of failing to remove information that promotes drugs, suicide, or is related to the opposition.

The fine of 7.2 billion rubles (87 million euros at the current rate) imposed by Google is, however, unprecedented in terms of its amount.

In a statement on Telegram, the press service of the courts of Moscow indicated that the Californian giant had been convicted of “recidivism”, because it did not remove from its platforms content considered illegal.

The court did not specify what content it was. “We will study the court documents and then decide on the measures to be adopted,” Google’s press service told AFP, without further comment.

This fine could be followed by another during the day against Meta (Facebook’s parent company), another digital heavyweight, tried by the same Moscow court.

In October, the Russian telecoms gendarme, Roskomnadzor, threatened Meta to impose fines of up to “between 5% and 10% of the annual turnover” of its subsidiary in Russia, or hundreds of millions of euros.

– Fines, threats, blockings –
In addition to pressure for fines, authorities threatened to arrest Apple and Google employees in Russia if they did not cooperate, according to sources inside the groups.

In September, just before the general elections, Moscow succeeded in this way in forcing these two companies, accused of “electoral interference”, to withdraw from their virtual stores in Russia the application of the imprisoned opponent Alexeï Navalny.

When we do not comply with their demands, the Russian authorities also resort to temporary or permanent blockades. Several sites linked to Mr. Navalny, whose organizations have been recognized as “extremists” by the Russian courts, have been permanently blocked.

In September, Russia also blocked six widely used virtual private network (VPN) software allowing access to the growing number of banned websites.

Since 2014, Russian law has also required web companies to store the data of their Russian users in Russia, legislation that has cost Facebook, Google and even Telegram and WhatsApp messengers thousands of euros in fines.

The authorities are also developing a controversial “sovereign internet” system which will eventually make it possible to isolate the Russian Internet by separating it from the major world servers.

The Kremlin denies wanting to build a national network under control, as is the case in China, but this is what NGOs and opponents fear.

In January 2021, President Vladimir Poutine ruled that the internet giants were “in de facto competition with states”, denouncing their “attempts to brutally control society”.

Russian power is finally strengthening its grip on the champions of Russian digital technology.

Passed under the control of a subsidiary of the gas giant Gazprom, the Russian tech group VK, parent company of the first Russian social network “VKontakte”, announced in mid-December the appointment as CEO of Vladimir Kirienko, son of a close associate of Mr. Poutine.

  • AFP