Russia Sins Google, Meta Multi-Million Dollar Fines for Failure to Remove Banned Content
Google LLC was fined an unprecedented nearly $ 100 million in a Russian court on Friday for its “systemic failure to remove banned content” – the heaviest penalty ever for a Western tech company.
The Moscow court calculated the fine based on Google’s annual revenues in Russia, which exceeded 85 billion rubles, or $ 1.15 billion, in 2020.
Meanwhile, Meta Platforms Inc., the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, was fined $ 27 million hours later, also for refusing to remove banned content.
Authorities in Moscow have repeatedly taken action against the companies for allegedly not moderating their content properly, but fines so far have been fairly minimal.
“For the first time, a Russian court has imposed fines that represent a share of the annual revenues of these companies in Russia,” Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor said in a statement.
Google and Meta have reportedly “ignored several requests” to remove content that incites religious hatred and promotes the views of “extremist and terrorist organizations,” said the regulator.
Google said via a spokesperson that it “will study the court documents when they become available and then decide on next steps.” However, a Russian official quoted by Bloomberg threatened “very unpleasant measures” if Google does not comply with the country’s mandate to remove banned content.
Russia says its laws are designed to protect minors and fight extremism, but critics of the Moscow government say it is really trying to quell dissent. They accuse the Kremlin of muzzling independent media and say it is now focusing on the internet, which is considered the last bastion of free speech in Russia.
For example, in September, the Russian media watchdog blocked dozens of websites linked to jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, whose organizations were banned for extremism. During protests in support of Navalny last winter, Russian authorities accused Google’s YouTube and Twitter Inc. of interfering in its internal affairs after refusing to remove messages calling for people to join the rallies.
At the time, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that big tech companies were in competition with states and had a similar level of influence.
Most recently, Roskomnadzor ordered Google and Apple Inc. to take down an app designed to help Navalny’s smart voting campaign in the September parliamentary election. The app informed supporters which candidates they should vote for in an attempt to topple Kremlin-aligned politicians. In this case, the two companies complied after authorities threatened to arrest local staff.