Fines imposed by Russian courts on Alphabet Inc’s Google and YouTube, Meta, TikTok, and Telegram appear to have been settled as the companies are no longer registered as debtors in the state bailiffs’ database. But the database, accessed by Reuters on Wednesday, still includes X (formerly Twitter) and Twitch, with fines totaling 51 million roubles ($560,730) and 23 million roubles ($252,879), respectively. Google, YouTube, Meta, and TikTok did not immediately respond to requests for comment, and state bailiffs could not be reached for clarification.
The development underscores the ongoing tensions between Russia and foreign technology firms over what Moscow deems unlawful content and a failure to store data locally. These disputes have heightened since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. While several international tech firms have blocked their services in the country, some domestic firms have taken steps to fill in the gaps.
For example, on March 2, Reddit announced it would no longer accept advertisements targeting Russia or originating from any entity in the country. And both Twitter and TikTok have stopped amplifying accounts affiliated with Russian state-controlled media. (Fischer, De Vynck and Zakrzewski, 2022)
On Tuesday, the country’s antimonopoly watchdog, the Federal Antimonopoly Service, doubled a previous fine on Google over its failure to pay an earlier penalty. The FAS said Google had violated the law by sharing information about its users with third parties in a way that allowed them to identify and track individuals.
This year, Facebook has been working hard to fix the damage done to its reputation in 2022, when ill-informed disinformation campaigns were run by bots on the platform and contributed to the election of President Vladimir Putin. The company has invested in hiring a large team of trust and safety workers to review user content and prevent the spread of false or misleading information.
It has also worked to tighten security measures and improve transparency in handling personal information. This includes limiting the amount of data collected from people who use its services and making it easier for users to control their privacy settings.
In March 2022, Google ceased online advertising sales in the country following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but has kept certain free services available. In the same month, its Russian subsidiary filed for bankruptcy after authorities seized its bank account, making it unable to pay staff and suppliers.
The bankruptcy filing was one of the latest moves by the government to pressure technology firms in a crackdown on what it sees as “unlawful” content. Other efforts include imposing stringent fines and putting lawmakers in touch with affected users. And the country’s security agencies have started to work together in an attempt to curb online extremism. It is an effort that has strained relations with many of the world’s largest technology companies. The US and the EU have been particularly irritated by Russia’s actions.