Safe Internet League CEO: “Google threatens Russia’s digital sovereignty”


«Google is deliberately trying to influence Russian domestic policy, to promote its services among Russian citizens and officials, in order to undermine our digital sovereignty, as stated in the official communication the League has submitted to Deputy Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation Dmitriy Rogozin earlier this week», announced Safe Internet League CEO Denis Davydov confirming the news reported by the press. Mr Davydov indicated that the letter contained a digest of the on-going full-scale investigation by the League into Google’s activities in Russia. Its results are due to be published shortly.

At this stage, the League already has a number of charges against Google:

1. Ignoring Russian legal requirements

Nominally, Google is not officially present in Russia as a business. Registered in California, USA, the company is operating under US jurisdiction, thus ignoring Russian legal requirements. Namely, earlier this year Google refused to comply with Roskomnadzor’s demand to inform the agency of its processing of Gmail users’ personal data. Google cited its privacy policy which provides for sharing personal information with third parties «with the user’s consent», as well as «in other cases» (that is, without such consent), like external processing, or to meet a legal requirement. This refers to US laws which the company is operating under and which are incompatible with Russia’s Federal Law On Personal Data.

Moreover, when it comes to illegal content, Google is extremely reluctant to follow Federal Law No. 139-FZ, sometimes taking it much too long to remove it from its online resources. To make things worse, its Google Translate and Google Mobilizer services are providing a way to effectively bypass the official Internet Blacklist and access all the blocked illegal content, including images and online videos, while nominally circumventing no law because it is not direct access to the offending web sites they are providing, but their contents, processed by Google and accessed as part of Google’s own services.

2. Actively cooperating with US intelligence services

Since 1999 Google is giving the US National Security Agency unrestricted access to its servers, and since 2007 Google is participating in its PRISM programme aimed at eavesdropping on the Internet traffic generated by foreign users of some of its services (viewing their e-mails, listening on to their voice and video calls, browsing their photos, videos, tracking the files they send).

In addition to that, the global success of its Android mobile OS is going to give US intelligence services access to billions of Android-powered gadgets worldwide: all the new smartphones, tablets, smart cars and other electronic devices will include a series of software patches developed by the NSA to grant it strict control over apps using the Internet, isolating them if needed.

3. Imposing its products on officials and members of the public

Actively engaging with US intelligence services, and not complying with Russian laws, Google is, at the same time, aggressively promoting its services among Russian citizens and officials. For example, its head office is regularly contracting professional lobbyists specializing in Russian politics, openly admitting its desire to become a policy stakeholder. As a result, Google has already announced its plan to cooperate with the local Open Government Partnership «in the field of open data and development of region-aimed educational programmes on effective use of open government mechanisms».

Google’s experts are actively participating in Russian Federation Council’s Special Committee on Cybersecurity Strategy’s work.

Google representatives regularly engage members of the State Duma and the Federation Council, federal and regional officials to discuss various topics, but also to promote their views on issues of cybersecurity, personal data protection, and Internet regulation. Members of the public also enjoy attention from Google, with regular IT workshops and classes focused on its own services.

4. Opposing Internet regulation

In 2012 Google launched a special section of its web site for users to pledge their support for «the free and open Internet». The initiative followed moves by a number of countries, including Russia, to change the way the Web is run, to make it governed not by US authorities, as it is at the moment, but jointly at the UN level, with involvement from many other states.

In 2007-2012 Google was also sponsoring the TOR ( anonymity network created to provide data encryption and IP address obfuscation services. It makes it impossible to inspect messages en route, enabling TOR users to exchange any kind of content, including that which is illegal in some countries. This network is notorious for distributing massive amounts of child pornography and providing a «safe haven» for cybercriminals, weapons and illegal drugs dealers.

«All these seemingly benign efforts are directly aimed at imposing Google products and services on Russian people, and are thus capable of relatively quickly undermining Russia’s digital sovereignty even further», thinks Mr Davydov. «Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult for us do something about it, because, as indicated in our communication to the Government of the Russian Federation, Google operates outside its laws».