A Moscow court ruled that Google has repeatedly failed to remove illegal content. It imposed a $98 million fine on the tech giant.
It is yet unclear what the content actually was, as the Russian court press release contained no details.
In a statement of its own, Google said it will examine the court ruling carefully before commenting.
Google is not the only foreign tech firm that has found it increasingly hard to operate as usual in Russia.
Meta received its own fine soon after the Google verdict was released. The penalty stemmed from a similar offense, and it amounted to about $27 million.
In both cases, the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, IT and Mass Media took into account the annual revenues of the offenders.
For comparison, Twitter got a light slap with a $40,000 fine earlier in December 2021.
Russia Vies for Greater Control
Given the country’s recent actions, the news that Russia is going after big foreign tech firms doesn’t come as a massive surprise.
Earlier in 2021, Russia banned six of the biggest VPNs. The motivations behind the move were unclear, but virtual private networks are efficient at obfuscating internet traffic and that makes them a particularly useful tool for political activists.
Also, social media platform LinkedIn is no longer accessible from Russia—unless you illegally use a VPN, that is. The networking platform’s refusal to censor its content earned it a nationwide ban.
Google also had to remove an app associated with the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
To compound the matter, the Russian government passed a bill that all new hardware—phones, computers, tablets, and other smart devices—must come with Russian software. The official reasoning is to give a boost to local tech companies and to help them compete against foreign tech giants.
However, given the government’s desire to limit free speech and increase governmental control, it is rather unclear whether this software won’t be spyware.
Leaving an online footprint is something natural—and something one can remove. Even if you end up on sites that assemble people’s data, they only harvest publicly available information. Having your activity fed to the government is something different altogether. It can lead to an even greater reduction of personal freedom.
Of course, so far these concerns are only speculation.
Google’s latest fine isn’t.