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Russia asks Google to clamp down on Navalny's 'Smart Voting'

September 5, 2021

A Moscow court has ordered Google to stop displaying the term "smart voting" in its search results — two weeks before elections. Smart Voting is a strategy developed by Navalny's team against the pro-Putin bloc.

Navalny stands behind glass during hearing
Navalny's Smart Voting project aims to boost candidates who are most likely to defeat rivals from the ruling United Russia partyImage: Babuskinsky District Court/AP Photo/picture alliance

Russian authorities are trying to restrict a project run by the opposition party by stopping Google from showing certain search terms, allies of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said on Sunday.

Navalny's project, an app which promotes his Smart Voting strategy, can help users vote for specific candidates in order to harm the chances of the contenders backed by the ruling United Russia party. His team hopes to use the strategy to gain new ground against the allies of President Vladimir Putin in the parliamentary election set for September 17-19.

However, the Moscow Arbitration Court has now ordered Google and Russian search engine Yandex from displaying the phrase "smart voting" in search results, Russian language news site Meduza reported.

Navalny supporters and the Russian election

Navalny's team shared the court's decision on Sunday.

Wool sellers move against Navalny

According to the court document, a sheep wool company called Woolintertrade claimed that Navalny's team registered a logo identical to their own.

The company went to court on June 29 to appeal for trademark protection, Meduza reported. The Moscow court then approved the block as an interim measure.

In another example of government pressure, Russian state communications watchdog Roskomnadzor warned Apple and Google they were risking fines by not removing Navalny's app from their app stores. The warning, issued earlier this week, said that not blocking the app could be interpreted as "interference in Russian election."

Court decision 'illegal'

Navalny ally Ivan Zhdanov, slammed the court's decision as "illegal." He said he was surprised that the process of registering a trademark could go at such a rapid pace — right before elections.

"It's naive to think that some company can register a trademark in a month, and then quickly file a lawsuit in the Moscow court and immediately get interim measures," Zhdanov wrote on Instagram.

"There is a real war going on right now over the internet. I'm not just talking about blocking: We are now spending unimaginable resources every minute to keep the Navalny (Smart Voting) app available," Zhdanov said.

"We are counting on Google not to implement this decision," he added.

Zhdanov also said "IT giants" would have to "work out a whole system" which "protects political projects from the Kremlin." 

mvb/dj (dpa, AP)