I am not quite sure why this news isn’t making headlines here in the United States, but for the first time in history on December 12th 2018, Google was fined 500,000 rubles ($7,500 US) by the Russia’s telecom watchdog Roskomnadzor – with threats of even larger fines and even banishment from the country within the future. The fines were levied against Google for the companies refusal to comply with Russian law, requiring the tech giant to host servers inside the country whilst also complying with national blacklisting rules/protocols. These laws have been active since October 2018.
With that said however, Russian authorities still believe that not enough is being done to remedy the situation. Given that Google made $110 billion dollars in profit over the course of 2018 alone, Vadim Subbotin, deputy head of Roskomnadzor, said that this weeks fine was essentially a “mockery” of Russian law – putting pressure on Russian lawmakers to heavily increase these sorts of fines in the future. “If fines won’t have any effect on the behavior of the foreign company, there’s a possibility that the legislation will be changed, which will allow the blocking of Google in Russia” Subbotin said. Adding that “blocking will become the toughest possible measure, but would be justified considering the content of the banned websites that Google allows its users to browse freely. We’re talking about child pornography, suicides, drugs, gambling, alcohol sales. We’re talking about extremism and terrorism,” he explained.
— RT (@RT_com) December 12, 2018
At the present moment in time there are over 120,000 websites banned in Russia, including links to VPN service providers, cyber security companies, certain international news platforms and countless human rights organizations – among many others. New laws enacted by Russia’s legislature in October 2018 prohibit tech companies, such as Google, from linking to these banned website or allowing them to show in their search returns. This is also why Russia now requires all tech companies and data service providers operating in the country to host at least one data server locally in the country, as well as route their service/traffic through Government controlled databases implementing/controlling the National blacklist.
However, despite multiple meetings between representatives and Russian authorities over the last several weeks and months, Google refuses to filter their content to tailor specifically to Russian audiences and has yet to pay the fine. This is particularly interesting to note considering that Google has willingly done this exact sort of thing for other countries, such as China – a key Russian ally. In fact, just this week, a day before they were fined in Russia on December 11th 2018, Googles CEO Sundar Pichai was forced to appear in front of US Congress where he was heavily criticized for complying with National blacklist rules/laws inside China, deliberately blocking search results in order to comply with China’s “Great Firewall.” It remains uncertain why Google is willing to comply with laws in one country, but not the other.
Full Testimony of Sundar Pichai In Front of US Congress: https://judiciary.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Pichai-Testimony.pdf
Written testimony of #Google CEO Sundar Pichai appearing before US #Congress yesterday facing questions on #censorship of conservatives in the US & responding to questions about his decision to comply w/ search restrictions enforced by Chinese Government: https://t.co/edsFe1Iurb
— Rogue Media Labs (@RogueSecLabs) December 12, 2018
Similarly, Facebook is also facing fines from Russian lawmakers in the future, with Roskomnadzor threatening to ban the service from the country altogether if the company doesn’t begin complying with Russian data hosting laws. Earlier this year, in November 2018, the Kremlin also made it illegal for active duty military personnel to own or operate Facebook accounts as it has since been discovered that the US military is currently using the service to wage “Psychological Warfare” against foreign troops serving abroad – faking or spoofing messages from loved ones back home to cause distress, despair or panic for Russian troops.
Interestingly enough, this is also something I have personally experienced after applying for political asylum in the Bahamas, with US authorities pretending to operate accounts belonging to people close to me from Colombia.
Lastly, as I was in the process of writing this article, news has just broke that Google‘s Iphone is now also facing a potential ban inside China after Chinese courts found the tech giant guilty of two Qualcomm software patent violations in the development of its product. This is particularly concerning for the company given that it is estimated Google sold over 50 million Iphones in China over the course of the last year alone.