Google orders Team Navalny to delete Smart Vote’s endorsements from Google Docs
After bowing to censorship demands a day earlier by disabling Russian users’ access to Alexey Navalny’s mobile app on its app store, Google has ordered Navalny’s associates to delete two documents now available on Google Docs that contain lists of election candidates endorsed by Smart Vote, the team’s strategic voting initiative meant to consolidate opposition against the political party United Russia. According to a letter shared by Team Navalny on its Telegram channel, Google says the content is illegal in Russia because the URLs to these documents now appear on the federal government’s registry of banned resources.
“If you don’t delete the materials in question, Google may be forced to block access to them,” the company warned in its letter.
The documents contain two lists: Smart Vote’s candidate endorsements in nationwide State Duma elections and Smart Vote’s candidate endorsements in local elections for city councils and other legislatures. At the time of this writing, the files were still accessible inside Russia.
After Google disabled access inside Russia to the Navalny app (which connects users to Smart Vote’s recommendations), anonymous sources at the company told The New York Times and Bloomberg that the decision was made only after the Russian authorities threatened specific Google employees in Moscow with felony prosecution.
Hours later, Telegram founder Pavel Durov announced that his network would suspend all bots “involved in campaigning” in accordance with Russia’s law on “election silence.” In connection with this weekend’s elections, the Russian authorities have not made any public demands of Telegram. The bot that allowed users to access Smart Vote’s endorsements is now disabled.
Russia’s federal censor, RKN, has been blocking local Internet access to Smart Vote’s website and online feeds for several weeks now. The agency has also issued orders and noncompliance threats to Apple, Google, Cloudflare, and Cisco for providing Smart Vote with services that allow it to circumvent the Russian state’s censorship efforts.