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a hand holds up a smart phone with the smart voting app interface
The Smart Voting app disappeared from Apple and Google app stores as Russian polls openedImage: Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images

Google, Apple pull Navalny app as Russian polls open

September 17, 2021

The Russian government has cracked down hard on independent media and the opposition in the run-up to parliamentary elections. Removing a Navalny voting app appears to be aimed at ensuring a Kremlin-approved poll result.


Alphabet's Google and Apple have removed jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny's tactical voting app from their stores, his team said on Friday.

The "Smart Voting" app was removed as Russia goes to the polls to elect a new parliament. The ruling United Russia party, which supports the policies of President Vladimir Putin, is expected to win the three-day vote amid a historic crackdown on the opposition.

The app was developed by allies of Navalny to organize a tactical voting campaign in a bid to challenge United Russia.

App removal is 'political censorship'

Ivan Zhdanov, director of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation who is in exile abroad, on Friday slammed the removal of the app.

"Removing the Navalny app from stores is a shameful act of political censorship," Zhdanov said on Twitter.

After opposition figures slammed the tech giants for caving in to Moscow's pressure, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov put out a statement lauding the companies for their complying with Russian law.

"This app is illegal in our country, both platforms were notified accordingly and seemingly made this decision in accordance with the letter of the law," Peskov said.

Peskov said the Kremlin viewed the app negatively and claimed the application's voting recommendations were "totally provocative efforts, which are actually harmful to voters."

How did the tactical voting app work?

The app showed users which candidate running against United Russia they should back in order to have the best chance of beating the Kremlin-aligned politicians in each of the country's 225 electoral districts.

Before heading to cast their ballot, a user could enter their address into the app which would then respond with the name of the candidate they should vote for.

The app urged them to back mostly Communist Party candidates to weaken the ruling party, but candidates from any parties would be eligible, as long as they were opposing United Russia.

Russia pressured Apple, Google

Russia demanded this month that Apple and Google remove the app from their stores, saying a refusal to do so would be treated as meddling in its parliamentary election.

On Thursday, Russia said official approaches had been made to the two companies' chief executives.

"Entities and personalities associated with Apple and Google should be aware that their knowingly illegal actions and criminal inaction after receiving appropriate warnings from official Russian officials will inevitably have legal consequences for them, up to and including criminal ones," Novaya Gazeta reported, quoting the first deputy head of the International Committee of the Council of the Russian Federation Vladimir Jabarov.

Novaya Gazeta cited Navalny's team which reported that a Denial-of-Service attack took place on the Smart Voting website and Telegram bot the night before the app was removed.

Apple and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment, Reuters news agency reported.

kmm/sms (Reuters, AFP)

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