Google Is Pulling Websites From Searches At Russia's Request

The search giant's decision is the latest example of US tech giants working to stay on foreign countries' good sides.

Sites that Russia's state media watchdog object to no longer appear on Google searches inside Russia after years of pressure, a local newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Roskomnadzor, the Russian government's communications agency, maintains a list of sites that are banned inside the country, ostensibly focusing on those that promote child porn, drug use, and suicide. The agency ordered in 2017 that all search engines operating in the country delete sites that it blacklists from results, as part of a new regulation banning the use of VPN's to browse the internet anonymously.

Last year, Google was hit with a relatively small fine — about $7500 — for failing to act on Roskomnadzor's orders.

An unnamed Google employee told Russian business-focused newspaper Vedomosti on Wednesday that the tech giant had finally begun to comply with the agency's order, removing 70% of the sites that Roskomandzor had listed. A likewise unnamed Roskomandzor employee confirmed the statistic to the newspaper.

Google declined to respond to the report's claims on the record.

“We’re committed to enabling access to information for the benefit of our users in Russia and around the world,” a Google spokesperson told BuzzFeed News in an emailed statement.

According to Google's own stats, the Russian government has made 175 separate requests for the search engine to remove sites it has banned, totaling more than 160,000 separate URLS, under the 2017 law. About 80% of the total requests made by Russia in last year resulted in removal, per Google.

There are apparently no complaints lately at Roskomandzor. "We are fully satisfied with the dialogue at this time," spokesperson Vadim Ampelonsky told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency on Thursday.

Google's cooperation with Russian requests for removal are the latest example of US-based tech companies having to work to make themselves compliant with local laws abroad. Last month, Netflix drew scorn for acquiescing to a demand from the Saudi Arabian government to pull down an episode of its news comedy show Patriot Act that was critical of the kingdom. Facebook's reach and role in human rights violations around the world have been the increasing subject of investigations for the last two years.

For much of the past year, Google itself has faced intense scrutiny and pressure over the state of its international business. In 2018, it dropped a project to create a filtered version of its search results for the Chinese market after facing fierce backlash from employees and was fined $5 billion by the EU for Android antitrust violations. And just last month, it was hit with a 50 million euro fine for failure to comply with GDPR legislation intended to protect European users' privacy.

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