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Russia slams $98m fines on Google over banned content

A Moscow court has slammed Google with an unprecedented hefty fine of nearly $100 million as Russia ramps up its pressure on foreign tech giants.

The court on Friday fined Google a record 7.2 billion rubles, ($98 million, 86 million euros), the court’s press service said on Telegram, for repeatedly failing to delete illegal content.

The content was not specified, but Russia regularly takes legal action for not removing content it labels illegal, such as pornographic material or posts condoning drugs and suicide.

As gathered, the massive fine was calculated as a percentage of Google’s annual earnings and was the maximum penalty for a repeated violation.

“We’ll study the court documents and then decide on next steps,” Google’s press service told AFP. Moscow has piled fines on the world’s biggest internet platforms, accusing them of not moderating their content properly and interfering in the country’s affairs.

But so far fines on Facebook parent company Meta, Twitter, Google have stretched into the tens of millions of rubles, not billions.

Meta — which has a hearing in court later today on the same charges — has also been threatened with a revenue-based fine. On Thursday, Twitter was handed its latest fine of three million rubles ($40,000) after authorities started throttling its services in the spring.

In the past few years, the Russian government has used the pretext of protecting minors and fighting extremism to control the Russian segment of the web and began developing a so-called sovereign internet.

Russia has already blocked a number of websites that have refused to cooperate with authorities, such as the video platform Dailymotion and LinkedIn. As part of broad efforts to bend foreign tech under its control, Russia in September banned six major VPN providers including Nord VPN and Express VPN.

Russia also introduced a new law demanding that smartphones, computers and other gadgets sold in the country come with pre-installed domestic software and apps. Russia’s opposition accuses the Kremlin of using such regulations to further stifle freedom of speech and clamp down on online dissent.

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