Opponents of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party were dealt a blow today as both Apple and Google gave in to Russian demands. According to representatives of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the companies have complied with government calls to remove Navalny’s tactical voting app from their stores. That means citizens who have not already downloaded the app will find it much harder (or impossible) to get it, and the opposition’s efforts to gain ground against Putin’s United Russia party could suffer, Reuters reports.
On Friday, Russia began a three-day vote that will fill out the country’s parliament. United Russia has taken a hit in the polls, dropping to just 30 percent approval. Despite that, Putin’s party is expected to come out ahead. The Navalny “tactical voting” app was one of the ways opponents hoped to claw back some control. However, Russia outlawed Navalny’s movement as “extremist” over the summer, giving authorities the ability to demand the removal of the app.
Sources claim that Russian officials threatened to arrest and prosecute specific individuals who work for Apple and Google in the country. That was allegedly enough for the companies to remove the app, but neither has discussed the decision on the record. For its part, the Russian government contends the app was illegal, so it doesn’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 been under increasing scrutiny as of late, with Epic promising to appeal a case in the US that seeks to force Apple to open up the platform. By continuing to maintain its monopoly over iOS software, Apple is essentially supporting the Russian state’s censorship.
Meanwhile, Android users in Russia have it a little easier. It’s possible to flip a few toggles in the settings and sideload apps from third-party sources outside the Play Store. However, only more technical users will bother with that. The opposition’s goal of focusing votes on the most viable challengers won’t do much good when access to the app is so restricted.
The vote will continue through the weekend, and Putin’s United Russia party is expected to emerge victorious even with the recent slump in the polls. If that happens, it could embolden the government, which has thus far turned a blind eye to “illegal” content on other platforms. For example, Navalny’s YouTube channel, which gets millions of hits per video.
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