Hate from Kremlin-backed trolls has forced Apple and Google to remove two popular Russian apps. The apps, which allow users to access Russian sites which are censored by the Kremlin, are at the centre of a far-reaching crackdown against “extremism”.
For many years, the Kremlin’s proxies have blocked online content with pro-Kremlin platforms. Russia’s presidential critics often found that they were unable to access websites they had a right to. President Vladimir Putin’s “soft”, new-media strategy has altered that.
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Russian video sharing site Gali.ru was shut down by Russia’s social network service REN, before being returned to service by a private citizen.
Gali.ru’s, and other blocked Russian sites, were criticised by US-based OpenNet Initiative, which monitors internet filtering for its members.
Mikhail Lukin, head of Gali.ru’s corporate strategy department, insisted that Russian users should not accept the government’s censorship of “so-called extremist content”. He said that Russian authorities gave Gali access to the huge customer list before they imposed the block.
Google and Apple allow apps to be used on multiple platforms. Gali made use of the so-called “bulk app distribution” function that allows the distribution of apps on many devices to a large audience.
In a statement, Apple said that Gali.ru’s apps had been removed because they were being used to “spread misinformation”.
The statement was published after over 70,000 internet users expressed their disapproval of Gali.ru’s applications on Russian social media sites.
In Russia, websites must be “investigated and controlled” by the government. Content that is perceived to be contrary to Russian values can be blocked through an administrative action.
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Gali.ru’s apps, which were able to distribute through both the App Store and Google Play, were accessible in Russia despite the fact that its content was blocked in the west.
Apple said that it may consider re-registration for the Gali apps.
Russian authorities have also banned the Russian edition of Telegram, a popular encrypted messaging app, over the fact that it is based in Estonia, a country that Russia has described as its “rulers”.
It is unclear whether the Gali.ru apps will remain available in the west.