Google employees criticize removal of Navalny app

Google employees are criticizing the removal of a voting app associated with Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny just as the Russian parliamentary elections began.

Google and Apple on Friday removed an app called Smart Voting that advocated for candidates who opposed the Russian government after the companies received threats of fines and criminal persecution by the Russian government. 

Internal Google forums and memegen, a messaging app that has been used for previous employee protests at Google, had images and messages seen by Bloomberg criticizing the company for bowing down to Russia's demands. 

One image showed a man reading a magazine with the phrase "Putin the user first" on the picture. Another image mocked Google's slogan of making information "universally accessible and useful."

The image showed a map of all the places where the app was allowed with every country having "universally accessible" over it, besides Russia where it only said "useful."

"They were pretty good at standing up to this stuff in the past," William Echikson, head of Google's free expression policy in Europe from 2008 to 2015, told Bloomberg. "But perhaps there's not the same idealism at the company any more. I suspect that standing up to governments is just not top of the list of their priorities."

"The company has changed," he added. "It's run by pragmatists now." 

Russia claimed Google and Apple were engaging in election interference by not removing the app with Russian President Vladimir Putin's administration welcoming the move to remove the app by the company. 

Russia has been cracking down on all opposition to Putin ahead of the parliamentary elections, arresting many opposition leaders and going after media outlets who oppose the regime. 

The Hill has reached out to Google for comment.