Russia bullies Google into taking down opposition election app

Apps can be incredibly powerful tools for people playing politics, and whether you’re speaking to your established base or just trying to mobilize voters, there’s arguably no better, modern way to keep in touch with the electorate. Over in Russia there’s one hell of a contentious election taking place this weekend, and supporters of opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny have been doing their darnedest to promote the use of an app to support friendly candidates in the country’s parliamentary election. To the shock of no one, those currently in power are all sorts of incensed (ie, internally terrified) that someone’s daring to challenge them in this manner, and following threats from Russian authorities, both Google and Apple alike have succumbed to government pressure to remove access to the opposition app.

The “Navalny” app, as it’s referred to, leans on a strategy known as “smart voting.” Now, if Russia had free and open elections, people could just vote directly for their favorite candidates. But this being Russia, actual political opponents are arrested or exiled. Instead, the app tries to direct voters to pretty much anyone who just isn’t a member of the ruling United Russia party — it’s something, at least.

Apparently even that threat was too much for the government to face legitimately at the polls, and earlier this week it began dialing up the pressure for Google and Apple to block access to the software. Employees of the companies were threatened with punishment if they didn’t take action against the “illegal” app, and armed men were deployed to Google’s offices.

The New York Times reports that Google began blocking access to the app in Russia as of Friday morning, but the listing still appears active in other nations. Its backers have already started talking about alternate ways to get their message out to voters, including the use of Telegram-based bots to suggest which candidates to support.

Earlier, access to Google Docs was seemingly blocked in Russia in an effort seen as disrupting the distribution of lists identifying opposition-friendly candidates.

Sideloading the app is still an option, and new updates attempt to sidestep government blocks. And, of course, you can always find it at APK Mirror.

We’ve reached out to Google for comment on its involvement in this story, and will update our post with any response we receive.

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