August 9, 2022

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Alphabet’s Google has once again been fined by Russian authorities, which continue to hit the...

Alphabet’s Google has once again been fined by Russian authorities, which continue to hit the American tech giant with fines for breaching local laws.

Reuters reported that Russia’s competition watchdog, the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS), on Tuesday fined Google 2 billion roubles ($34.2 million) for allegedly abusing its dominant position in the video hosting market.

Google and other western technology giants are being regularly fined for allegedly breaching local laws. Earlier this month for example Apple and Zoom Video Communications were fined for refusing to store the data of Russian citizens on Russian territory.

YouTube © bloomua, Shutterstock 2012

Russian campaign

These fines are part of Moscow campaigns against western tech firms, amid Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Punishing global tech sanctions have been levelled against Russia, and many tech firms have already withdrawn completely from the Russian market.

Big name social networking giants such as Twitter or Facebook are already blocked in the country.

Google meanwhile stopped selling online advertising in Russia in early March, but its free services such as Google search, YouTube, Gmail, Maps, Android and Play are still available in the country.

YouTube therefore remains of one of the few western technology platforms able to deliver factual news to Russian citizens – free from Russian propaganda – much to Moscow’s chargrin.

YouTube has also blocked channels connected to Russian state-backed media outlets RT and Sputnik, following the invasion.

RT is a Russian state-controlled television network funded by the federal tax budget of the Russian government.

Sputnik International meanwhile is a Russian state-owned news agency, broadcaster and website platform.

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Both media outlets have denied Western allegations they are Russian propaganda outlets.

Last week Russia-backed separatist Donetsk People’s Republic said it would block Google for ‘inhuman propaganda’, as it followed Russia’s bans on Western social media.

Google fine

And now Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service alleges Google has “abused its dominant position in the YouTube video hosting services market,” without providing additional details.

“We will study the text of the official decision to define our next steps,” Google said in a statement to Reuters.

Google must pay the fine within two months of it entering into force, the FAS said.

Russia for its part is trying to replace the gap left by Western tech, with home-grown alternatives.

Reuters reported that Gazprom Media – a media conglomerate linked to state-controlled gas giant Gazprom – has been heavily promoting RuTube, its Russian alternative to YouTube, which has seen a sharp uptick in traffic since February.

Russian propaganda

Last week a Russian court ordered Google to pay 21.1 billion roubles ($358.7 million) over what prosecutors said were repeated refusals to remove content Russia deems illegal, such as “fake news” about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Reuters reported.

The Tagansky District Court of Moscow objected to YouTube content it alleged contained “fakes about the course of a special military operation in Ukraine” .

Last month Russia’s communications regulator opened administrative cases against Google and six other foreign technology companies for what it called violations of data protection legislation.

Earlier in May Russian bailiffs seized 7.7bn roubles from Google that had been ordered as part of a fine calculated on the basis of the company’s annual turnover – the first time such a fine had been levied in Russia.

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Soon after that Google declared its Russian subsidiary bankrupt after Russian authorities seized its main Russian bank account and transferred the funds out of the account, leaving it with no funds to pay contractors or staff.

Google has reportedly already moved most of its employees out of the country and closed down its local office.

This prompts the question whether Google will actually bother to pay the Russian fine.

Theoretically, Google can appeal the court’s verdict and fine in the meantime – if it wants to engage with Russian authorities that is.