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Russia Fines Google $374M on Disagreements Over Ukraine War Coverage

Russia stock image
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

A Russian court on Monday fined Google to the tune of $374 million for failing to remove forbidden content, making it accessible to Russian citizens. As covered by The Register, the content mostly relates to international coverage of the Russian-Ukrainian war and marks a moment for state-backed censorship on free speech and the free flow of information. The announcement was made by the country's internet watchdog, Roskomnadzor (the equivalent to the US's Federal Communications Commission, the FCC).

The content, specifically available on YouTube but also accessible through Google searches, was deemed by the Tagansky District Court of Moscow as containing "fakes about the course of a special military operation in Ukraine" while simultaneously discrediting Russia's armed forces. Adding fuel to the fire, the court added that some of the material promoted extremism and/or terrorism and convicted Google of an "indifferent attitude to the life and health of minors."

As a result of the proceedings, Russian Google users will be notified of the company's perceived misdeeds, certainly in a bid to reduce the giant's value in the minds of Russia's citizens. And as a way to further punish Google, users won't be permitted to use Google or YouTube's ads platform to drive their businesses or content creations. It's yet another curious case of humans being caught in the crossfire.

Speaking to government officials on Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly said the country would develop its own equivalents to Western products and tech firms, as the country wouldn't be reversing course on its handling of foreign companies.

"Not just restrictions but the almost-complete closure of access to foreign high-tech products is being deliberately, intentionally used against our country," said Putin, adding that “It is clear that this is a huge challenge for our country, but ... we are not going to give up and stay in a state of disarray or, as some of our ‘well-wishers’ predict, go back decades. Of course not,” he said.

Naturally, Google isn't the only search provider in Russia. In fact, one of the country's most used search engines, the domestic, Moscow-headquartered Yandex, has caught up with Google in terms of market share from February of this year - which lines up "nicely" with Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24th. According to Statcounter, Yandex and Google have captured around 98% of the Russian search market between them.

Search engine marketshare in Russia

Search engine market share fluctuation in the Russian Federation, as disclosed by statcounter, from January 2021 through June 2022. Note the increase in Yandex searches compared to Google's, which lines up with February 2022, the month of Ukraine's invasion. (Image credit: statcounter)

According to Roskomnadzor, the amount of the fine was calculated "on the basis of the company's annual Russian turnover." Of course, it also provides the added (potential) bonus of injecting hundreds of millions of dollars into the country's economy, which could very well help replenish the Russian state's war chest and its embattled armies.

This isn't the first time Google has been in the sights of the Russian state. Just last month, the search provider was fined around $1.2 million on similar grounds. In April of this year, another, smaller $138,000 slap was directed at Google for alleged pro-Ukraine propaganda.

These accumulating fines happen even as Google Russia announced it was closing up shop in the country in May, following the arrest of its local bank accounts. Speaking with The Register at the time, a Google spokesperson confirmed the situation, adding that "The Russian authorities' seizure of Google Russia's bank account has made it untenable for our Russia office to function, including employing and paying Russia-based employees, paying suppliers and vendors, and meeting other financial obligations."

Staff working for Google Russia - including Russian citizens - were given a choice of moving towards a different Google subsidiary or just leaving their jobs outright, with most deciding to move to Dubai, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Yet Russian citizens were once again left high and dry, as Google Russia's closure meant that the billing and management systems responsible for keeping the Play Store operational in the country were severed, locking users out of new app acquisitions and downloads.

Despite Google Russia's closure, the company told The Register it was committed to continuing to provide free services such as email and web searches to citizens of the Russian Federation.

"We previously announced that we paused the vast majority of our commercial operations in Russia," the Google spokesperson told The Register. "People in Russia rely on our services to access quality information and we'll continue to keep free services such as Search, YouTube, Gmail, Maps, Android and Play available."

Francisco Pires
Freelance News Writer

Francisco Pires is a freelance news writer for Tom's Hardware with a soft side for quantum computing.

  • SunMaster
    Why Alphabet and Meta still operate in Russia is beyond comprehension. I recall the real word is greed.

    Maybe this 'fine' will get Google to reconsider.
    Reply
  • peachpuff
    SunMaster said:
    Why Alphabet and Meta still operate in Russia is beyond comprehension. I recall the real word is greed.

    Maybe this 'fine' will get Google to reconsider.
    If profit - fines = > 0 then continue, simple
    Reply
  • King_V
    So, let me be sure I understand this.

    Russia already seized Google Russia's bank accounts back in May.

    Now, they're trying to impose further fines on Google above and beyond that?

    Why is this not a case of "Stop doing this or we'll fine you" being replied to with "LOL you already seized our accounts, we'll stop whenever we feel like and we're NOT paying you!"

    I mean, I'm sure it's not that simple, but still... what leverage does Russia have over Google at this point? What's to stop Google from doubling down on letting stuff in that Putin doesn't like?
    Reply
  • gg83
    Maybe this action by Russia is to be used as an example of Putin going after the Evil western companies. More for the propaganda machine. Don't get me wrong America is responsible for all sorts of bad things.
    Reply
  • husker
    SunMaster said:
    Why Alphabet and Meta still operate in Russia is beyond comprehension. I recall the real word is greed.

    Maybe this 'fine' will get Google to reconsider.
    The end of the article clearly states they are not making any money in Russia and the reason to continue operations there:

    "We previously announced that we paused the vast majority of our commercial operations in Russia," the Google spokesperson told The Register. "People in Russia rely on our services to access quality information and we'll continue to keep free services such as Search, YouTube, Gmail, Maps, Android and Play available."

    It is one of the few sources of information inside the country that is not Russian propaganda. If you want to provide pressure on the Russian government to end the war from the inside, then this is one of the tools to do that.
    Reply
  • hotaru251
    "fakes about the course of a special military operation in Ukraine"

    ....... Adding fuel to the fire, the court added that some of the material promoted extremism and/or terrorism and convicted Google of an "indifferent attitude to the life and health of minors."

    so its a "special military operation"? maybe NATO should have a special military operation in Moscow ;o...

    they just love to chickenfoot around "invasion" and "war" don't they?

    also indifference to the life and health of minors is also laughable as they are purposefully targeting the sick, elderly, and children...
    Reply
  • Hooda Thunkett
    Admin said:
    A Russian court has fined Google over its failure to remove forbidden content related to the Ukrainian war, marking a moment for state-backed censorship on free speech and the free flow of information.

    Russia Fines Google $374M on Disagreements Over Ukraine War Coverage : Read more
    I'm more impressed that Google's search ranking is so high in Russia right now, considering that they are wrapping up their business there. That suggests to me that nearly half of Russians trust Google more than the home-grown alternative, Yandex.
    I may have a spark of hope yet.
    Reply
  • PBme
    SunMaster said:
    Why Alphabet and Meta still operate in Russia is beyond comprehension. I recall the real word is greed.

    Maybe this 'fine' will get Google to reconsider.

    They don't anymore. They do operate on the web. They are unlikely to give the g
    King_V said:
    So, let me be sure I understand this.

    Russia already seized Google Russia's bank accounts back in May.

    Now, they're trying to impose further fines on Google above and beyond that?

    Why is this not a case of "Stop doing this or we'll fine you" being replied to with "LOL you already seized our accounts, we'll stop whenever we feel like and we're NOT paying you!"

    I mean, I'm sure it's not that simple, but still... what leverage does Russia have over Google at this point? What's to stop Google from doubling down on letting stuff in that Putin doesn't like?

    Yeah, this is just standard Czar Putin posturing as Google ain't likely to pay them a penny. Russia will eventually just block them but I assume they are fully ready yet for that fallout.
    Reply
  • samopa
    What can happen if Google does not pay ? Enlighten me please.
    Reply
  • twocows360
    samopa said:
    What can happen if Google does not pay ? Enlighten me please.
    Russia will seize any holdings (including IP) and infrastructure Alphabet still has in Russia and will most likely usurp their operations there entirely, keeping the staff and assets in place but running as much of it themselves as they can (with their desired censorship practices in place). The Arm China situation, while not entirely similar, shows what happens when a hostile foreign government decides to give the middle finger to a US company.
    Reply