Google has now officially been warned not to ‘meddle’ in Russia’s local elections with a threat of litigation up to and including criminal prosecution. Google subsidiary YouTube will be in violation of Russian political agitation laws if it continues to allow the platform to be used by opposition leader Alexei Navalny to call for protests via the platform, according to Russian officials. Although Navalny is currently serving a 30-day sentence for the violation of similarly-toned public order laws during earlier protests, he has been using the company’s advertising tools to call for further protests during the upcoming September 9 elections. YouTube has allowed those ads to continue and the Central Election Commission is said to have sent Alphabet CEO Larry Page a letter about the matter. Deputy Chief Vadim Subbotin of Russia’s state media and communications watchdog group Roskomnadzor has gone further to accuse Google as taking a direct role in spreading “the propaganda of anti-social behavior” during elections. Referring to YouTube as a mouthpiece for illegal information, Subbotin says that the company will be directly intervening in domestic affairs if it does not act on the call to stop providing a platform for Navalny.
Although Navalny is currently serving a 30-day sentence for the violation of similarly-toned public order laws during earlier protests, he has been using the company’s advertising tools to call for further protests during the September 9 elections. For Google’s part, the company has responded by stating that it does review every valid request received from a government institution. However, it has not indicated whether it will remove Navalny’s messages from the platform. That could land the company in serious trouble in the region since an official warning has also been issued by the country’s Prosecutor-General’s Office about the content. According to one official from the office, Alexei Zhafyarov, the search giant could ultimately be prosecuted on criminal grounds.
This is not the first run-in Google has had with Russian officials over the past several years. More recently, the company was forced to open up its Chrome Browser to allow a different default search engine in the region. Back in November, the company was also threatened after it was revealed that it was contemplating lowering the search ranking of certain Russian websites that stood accused of spreading propaganda. Meanwhile, Google is also facing a fair amount of trouble at home and in other countries with allegations of bias and over its data collection policies. President Trump leveled similar claims against the company earlier today in an interview with The Daily Caller. Specifically, Trump accused the American companies of supporting Hillary Clinton unfairly and behaving as a “true interference” in the country’s democratic process.