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Google, Apple and Cloudflare invited to stay in Russia

Google, Apple and Cloudflare invited to stay in Russia

“It’s important for tech companies to maintain these channels,” said Natalia Krapiva, a lawyer with digital rights group Access Now. “App stores are important alternatives for people to know what’s going on.”

Asked about the continued presence in Russia of Cloudflare, one of the world’s best-known cybersecurity service providers, a State Department spokesperson said, “It is essential to maintain the flow of information to the Russian people as much as possible. The spokesperson agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation.

Although hundreds of Western companies have withdrawn from Russia, far beyond what the newly imposed sanctions require, some basic technology services are essential to put the tools of communication and potential protest in better hands.

In the weeks following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the imposition of new laws criminalizing speech that took major news sites offline, Russians flocked to app stores, said technicians. According to analytics firm Similarweb, top downloads include virtual private networks to connect across borders and messaging apps such as Telegram, WhatsApp and Threema, all of which are major ways to share untrusted information.

Russia’s use of private “bridge” connections that relay browser connections through Tor, an anonymity program, also increased immediately after the war, Tor said.

News apps are the easiest way to circumvent censorship, as Russian officials have failed to penetrate their communication with smartphones.

Still, tech companies have compromised to avoid employee arrests or other retaliation, such as complete store closures. Google and Apple both removed jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny’s app under serious threats in September, and Apple has not restored it, although Google has. Apple also promotes government-approved apps such as censored social network VKontakte, which looks like Facebook but is heavily censored.

Apple declined to comment for this article; Google did not respond to a request for comment.

Cloudflare’s balance is more visible. As of Tuesday, he was protecting sites like TopWar.rua news site with headlines like “US Forces China to Betray Russia” and [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] “Erdogan, defending the Russians, returns the debt to Russia.”

But the company also protects independent media, which would otherwise be overwhelmed by the growing number of denial-of-service attacks, which bombard sites with nonsensical traffic and render them inaccessible.

“It could be that the only thing the Russian government and Ukrainian activists agree on is that American tech companies get kicked out of Russia, and especially out of us,” Cloudflare chief executive Mathew Prince said. at the Washington Post. He declined to comment on specific customers the company protects.

Russia has already ordered state agencies to switch to Russian infrastructure providers, and Cloudflare has widened the gap by withdrawing its encryption keys to protect customer information outside of Russia, Belarus and even Ukraine, in case its data centers are captured.

Supporters say that if Cloudflare dropped pro-government sites, the Kremlin might ban it for everyone.

“People who are really paying attention, whether it’s Western governments or civil society, organizations that are really following what’s happening on the ground, are asking us not to step aside,” Prince said. “That makes it, for us, a pretty easy decision.”

One of the main reasons companies are staying in Russia at the moment is that Russia is nowhere near as advanced in censorship and repression technology as China. Russians can still find outside viewpoints and share them if they go to app stores and make efforts instead of following government recommendations to use monitored social media and messaging systems.

App store platforms can help in this effort, instead of actively participating in censorship and surveillance. App stores in China are more tightly controlled, with many apps banned.

But the situation is fluid, and employees at US tech companies say they will need to continually assess their roles.

“Businesses must assess the human rights impacts of their business decisions in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights“, the State Department spokesperson says La Poste. These principles include accepting responsibility “to avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and to remedy such impacts when they occur”.

“Companies have the right to choose to do business in Russia, and we understand why many may choose not to,” the spokesperson said.