Some analysts have suggested that the government believes YouTube is too popular to block without risking political pushback or increasing the popularity of VPNs. But others argue that Google’s exemption is tied to the company’s asset, which is in the pockets of about 75% of Russians. “Most smartphones in Russia are Android [which runs on Google’s operating system], not Apple, because they’re cheaper,” says Sergey Sanovich, a research associate at Princeton University. “It is technically much more difficult to censor data and mobile apps than websites. »
Blocking some Google services without affecting others can also be difficult, says Karen Kazaryan, director and founder of the Moscow-based Internet Research Institute. “Google’s cloud infrastructure is a very complex thing,” says Kazaryan. “When you start trying to block something, you can accidentally block something unrelated and then a critical service will stop working. »
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine only intensified the problems the Google subsidiary was already facing in the country. Over the years, the Moscow office has struggled with increasingly strict internet laws and a steady stream of fines, ranging from $11,000 to $100 million, for its refusal to take content down. Google told WIRED there would be no changes to YouTube’s content moderation policies related to its bankruptcy filing.
This is also not the first time that Google has closed an office in Moscow. In 2014, it moved its engineers out of town to protest new data protection rules. But in recent years, the stakes have gotten higher. In September 2021, Russian authorities visited the home of one of Google’s top executives, telling him to remove an app linked to activist Alexei Navalny from the Google Play Store or face jail time. When Google moved the manager into a hotel under a different name, the same agents showed up in her room to tell her the clock was still ticking, according to the washington post, who did not name the executive. Within hours, the app had been removed.
Kazaryan thinks part of the reason Google has persevered in Russia, despite so many challenges, is that its co-founder is Russian. “I think it’s a bit sentimental because of Sergey Brin,” he said. Brin, who lived in the Soviet Union until age 5, has previously spoken about how his experience growing up in a political system that censored speech shaped Google’s politics, “It definitely shaped my views, and some of my company’s views,” he said. The New York Times in 2010.
The company’s Russian subsidiary also made billions of dollars in revenue. In a revenue call, Google said 1 percent of its global revenue came from Russia in 2021, up from 0.5 percent the year before, which would be $2.5 billion, the same amount it won in the UK. in 2020. The company expected those revenues to grow, says Wedbush analyst Dan Ives. “Google followed the same path as Microsoft, where there was a lot of hope that they could expand into Russia over the next few decades,” he says.