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“We need to force Google to comply with our laws” – Alexander Malkevich

The fight against Google’s censorship was discussed at the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation

“We need to force Google to comply with our laws” – Alexander Malkevich

The role of Google as an aggressive monopolist, grossly violating the norms of national legislation outside the United States, was discussed on July 28 at the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation during a round table “Google: a new type of digital censorship.”

“The topic is relevant because sometimes Google blocks Russian media outlets without providing any valid reasons,” said Rifat Sabitov, Chairman of the Commission on Development of Information Community, Mass Media and Mass Communications.

The First Deputy Chairman of the Commission Alexander Malkevich was quoted as saying: “Google is not only the most popular search engine in the world – the corporation also owns YouTube, the largest video hosting service on the Internet accounting for 79 percent of all registered Internet users (based on data for 2019).”

According to him, Google formally adheres to a policy of respect for freedom of speech. However, in practice, its representatives unfairly censor user content, publicly labeling their actions as “combating disinformation” or “countering the spread of hatred”, thereby allowing themselves to block any content they deem unacceptable and arbitrarily determining its inadmissibility.

“For example, last night YouTube blocked the TV channel Tsargrad without giving any reasons,” said Alexander Malkevich, noting that Tsargrad positioned itself as the first Russian conservative information and analytical channel.

Alexander Malkevich presented the results of a study by the Foundation for the Defense of National Interests, which contains numerous facts of political censorship and indicates the algorithm according to which Google de facto legalized "soft censorship" practices of Internet content.

In February 2019, the company released How Google Fights Disinformation that sets out how the corporation combats disinformation. According to the authors of the document, “disinformation” is interpreted as messages that could cause a tangible split within the target audience, affect the results of an election or "elicit certain moods among the population.”

“Thus, due to the resources it controls, Google is able to determine the type of media content accessed by Internet users on a global scale. The presence of such a wide potential of influence on Internet users opens up a wide range of opportunities for various kinds of abuse and manipulation. Of particular concern is that Google retains an almost exclusive position in terms of controlling search engine traffic and distributing video content,” according to the report.

The authors of the document note that YouTube directly and indirectly censors any type of content produced with the participation of Russian authorities. “Among other things, measures are used to form a prejudiced attitude towards that particular information source. For example, since February 2018 all videos of the RT channel have a special warning for American viewers – this media outlet is funded by the Russian Government.”

“While showing increased attention to political content, the YouTube administration ignores the uploading of fraudulent content and other information, the dissemination of which is prohibited by law,” the report claims.

This also applies to the rules for collecting and processing personal data, which can’t but cause concern against the backdrop of close cooperation between the video-hosting platform and US authorities.

Recall that on September 12, 2019, representatives of the Prosecutor General's Office informed the public that Google transferred personal data of Russians to foreign special services at first request without the consent of the competent Russian authorities.

“There have been numerous cases of leaked personal data of users (according to Youtube representatives), as a result of technical failures during operation of Google services and devices. Users should also be aware that the history of apps and web searches contains information about activities in services such as Google Maps, Google Search and GooglePlay. The history can also store data about activities on apps, websites and devices that use Google services, as well as voice requests and commands,” the report claims.

An overview of violations of Russian legislation by Google was presented by Civic Chamber Commission member Ekaterina Mizulina.

“We are concerned about the actions of Google, first and foremost, this concerns the video-sharing platform YouTube, in connection with the dissemination of destructive information to children and adolescents. Since 2017, we have seen a surge of such information on YouTube and we can see that as of now the number of such videos has increased. These are not only videos that are associated with violence, but also videos that deny traditional values. What is more, there is a new direction – the so-called shock content videos,” she was quoted as saying.

Alena Bulgakova, member of the Civic Chamber Commission on Examination of Socially Significant Draft Laws and Other Legislative Initiatives, Executive Director of the observer corps “For Fair Elections”, talked about how she herself faced censorship from Google. “We faced censorship during the election campaign in 2018, when the pages of the observer corps “For Fair Elections” and the association “Independent Public Monitoring” were blocked on social media without any valid reasons along with the accounts of numerous colleagues. To this day, after more than two and a half years, we still have not received a single response to our queries.”

She agreed that it was necessary to take measures to resolve these problems, as well as to conduct constructive dialogue with Internet users. “Almost everyone is on the Internet that is why it is extremely important to secure our jurisdiction and our information space.”

Alexander Malkevich noted that almost all self-respecting countries of the world were taking a wide range of measures and decisions to protect their information space.

“We will work in conjunction with the Federal Assembly to ensure that the Law on self-regulation of social networks is adopted as soon as possible. We must force foreign platforms to accept the new terms and allow users to sign the relevant agreements where everyone can understand the extent of the platform's responsibility for violating user rights, as well as their own rights and responsibilities,” he said.

According to the social activist, it is Russia that is taking on international platforms with an initiative to unite all countries for public and legal pressure in regard to the largest IT platforms.

“No one wants to show the blacklist to users and no one wants to explain why you can be banned or blocked, what words can or cannot be used and what exactly is deemed as a violation. All these points are shrouded in mystery,” he stressed.

Furthermore, Alexander Malkevich pointed out that it was necessary to turn to the state and develop the maximum range of protectionist measures in relation to Russian startups and high-tech IT developments.

“And of course, we expect a tougher stance from our Federal Antimonopoly Service, from Roskomnadzor and other Russian institutions in relation to specific Western IT websites that systematically fail to comply with the applicable Russian legislation. We need to force them to comply with our laws, operate within the Russian legal sphere, pay taxes and work in a civilized manner as is the case in Europe and other countries around the world,” concluded Alexander Malkevich.

Tags: Alexander Malkevich, Alena Bulgakova, Ekaterina Mizulina, Rifat Sabitov

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