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Google censors search results after Russian government threat, reports say

Google (Pixabay/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Google has begun censoring websites blacklisted by the Russian government after Russia’s communications watchdog threatened to block the search-engine giant for not following its increasingly stringent rules, the Russian daily Vedomosti reported.

An unnamed source at Roskomnadzor, the watchdog, told the paper on February 6 that Google has in recent weeks begun to comply with requests to block certain websites, and is now censoring around 70 percent of those included on a list provided by Russian authorities.

Another source with ties to Google explained to Vedomosti that under the terms of an agreement with Roskomnadzor, the American company receives a daily updated list of blacklisted websites from the government watchdog and is expected to act on it.

The anonymous source added that Google looks into the reasons given for each site’s inclusion on the list before deciding whether to remove it from search results.

On February 7, Roskomnadzor spokesman Vadim Ampelonsky told state news agency RIA Novosti that the watchdog has no complaints about its cooperation with Google.

“We have developed a constructive dialogue with Google and this dialogue currently satisfies us,” he said. He did not confirm the reports published in Vedomosti.

Since 2017, Roskomnadzor keeps a list of websites that search engines operating in Russia are legally obliged to censor. The list includes websites carrying content deemed extremist or that promote things like suicide or drugs.

Illegal gambling and certain pornographic sites are also on the blacklist.

If true, Google’s move to censor results is the latest stage in a protracted battle between the Russian government and the world’s largest Internet search engine, which until now has been reluctant to filter its results in line with Russian demands.

In July 2018, Russia introduced a law mandating fines of up to 700,000 rubles for search engines that fail to censor content blacklisted by Roskomnadzor. Google has since received several warnings, and in December the company was fined 500,000 rubles ($10,600) for noncompliance.

Earlier this year, Roskomnadzor issued an official warning that the website may be blocked in Russia, Vedomosti reported.

In its latest Transparency Report on government requests to remove content, Google noted a steep rise in the number of such requests from Russia.

In the first half of 2018, 19,192 were received from authorities, representing over 75 percent of the 25,534 requests made in that six-month period. Almost three quarters concerned content on YouTube, the video-sharing site owned by Google.

In the latest high-profile case, Ukraine alleged on February 6 that Roskomnadzor was pressuring YouTube to remove a video showing a Crimean Tatar activist being detained on the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized and annexed from Ukraine in March 2014.

In a statement, Amnesty International said “YouTube should uphold its responsibilities according to international human rights standards and push back on the Russian government’s censorship demands. YouTube’s stated company values include protecting freedom of expression and freedom of information and we call on them to uphold these values today.”