Russia Requires Apple and Google to Remove LinkedIn From Local App Stores
By CECILIA KANG and KATIE BENNER
Jan 6 2017
WASHINGTON — Smartphone users in Russia can no longer download the LinkedIn app on iPhone or Android devices, following a similar move in China to block The New York Times app on iPhones.
The demand by Russian authorities to remove LinkedIn in Apple and Google app stores comes weeks after a court blocked the professional networking service for flouting local laws that require internet firms to store data on Russian citizens within the nation’s borders.
The action is the equivalent of a nation banning “Catcher in The Rye” and then forcing booksellers to remove the title from their shelves. It puts Apple and Google in a difficult position. The companies are strong proponents of open internet policies and free speech but are now being asked to be agents for governments that censor its citizens.
When LinkedIn’s website was blocked, the apps stopped functioning properly. Removing them from the Google Play store and Apple’s App Store may not have cut off access to content, but it sent a signal that countries can push the tech giants to remove the apps.
Direct blocking of websites has been done by China, Russia, Turkey and several other nations for years, usually through their state-run internet service providers. But civil rights groups say the pressure authoritarian governments are now placing on Apple and Google is a new wrinkle.
“Apps are the new choke point of free expression,” said Rebecca MacKinnon, who leads a project on open internet tracking at New America.
Increasingly, United States tech companies are complying with those demands. In the early 2000s, American internet firms strongly pushed back on demands by China to comply with censorship rules within the country’s internet controls, known as the Great Firewall. Recently, Facebook has been working on a censorship tool to be able to access China, where it is currently blocked along with Twitter and Google.
LinkedIn, which is owned by Microsoft, said it was “disappointed” with the decision by Russian regulators to block the service, which the company confirmed was extended to apps in Russian Apple and Google Play stores.
“It denies access to our members in Russia and the companies that use LinkedIn to grow their businesses,” said Nicole Leverich, a spokeswoman for LinkedIn.
Apple confirmed it was asked to remove its LinkedIn app in Russia about a month ago. It has also confirmed it was asked by China to block The New York Times app, but declined to comment further on both events. Google would not confirm it has removed LinkedIn in Russia but said it adheres to local laws in the countries in which it operates.