Putin puts pressure on Russia’s top search engine after ban on ‘smart voting’ political search results

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Billionaire Arkady Volozh, founder and CEO of Russian search engine Yandex, plans to challenge last week’s decision by a Moscow arbitral tribunal, which banned Yandex from showing results for the term “Smart Voting,” at the following a complaint from the Russian Federation.

The term in question – Smart Voting – is part of a Russian opposition effort that has formed around the once poisoned and now jailed Alexei Navalny to challenge the likely victory of Putin’s United Russia party in the scheduled election. in the State Duma on September 19.

The Moscow court agreed this week that the Russian Federation has “exclusive rights” to the term “smart voting” and that Yandex’s continued violation by posting simple search results could lead to “seizure of funds … or other goods. belonging to the defendant and held by him or by others. The specific ‘smart voting’ website votesmart.appspot.com — published by Team Navalny, the group’s name for Alexei Navalny’s allies — was banned in July, but government control over search terms is an issue. attempt to restrict the wider online conversation to tactical voting ahead of the next election.

Volozh, the billionaire behind Yandex – the Russian equivalent of search engines like Google and Yahoo – was not personally named in court documents, but following the ban, a spokesperson for Yandex said Forbes, “We do not agree with the court ruling and plan to challenge the injunction measures applied.” Adding: “From the document it is not at all clear exactly what we need to do and how it can be done.”

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The ban follows the crackdown on a number of Navalny-linked YouTube channels in Russia and leaves social platforms in a precarious position as elections approach.

The Russian Federation has successfully argued that it is the “exclusive rights owner” of the “Smart Voting” brand and that Yandex should be prohibited from using the “Smart Voting” designation as one of the Search keywords when indexing sites. The idea that a government owns the rights to a set of words would not be accepted in the United States, nor in some Western European countries.

Yandex, although listed on NASDAQ, is headquartered in Moscow and remains Russia’s largest tech company, with a market capitalization of over $ 27 billion. Volozh started the company in 1997, and remains the largest individual shareholder and CEO. Forbes estimates his net worth at $ 2.8 billion. Co-founder Ilya Segalovich died of cancer in 2013, but today he goes by the name Yandex, which means “Yet Another Clue”.

The nation’s roller coaster history with its wealthy business class looms above the tech entrepreneurs in Russia. The first generation of Russian billionaire entrepreneurs rose under Putin’s predecessor Boris Yeltsin only to be stripped of his wealth in the years that followed.

Perhaps the most famous of these former billionaires, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, of oil giant Yukos and (before he was jailed in 2003) once the richest man in Russia, tweeted yesterday: “So @yandex wants to challenge this absurd ‘court’ decision. That’s fine, but Roskomnadzor has already blocked the Smart Voting website in Russia anyway. Why are Putin and his lackeys so nervous?

Roskomnadzor, the Russian government body responsible for supposedly overseeing communications, IT and mass media, has certainly been very busy lately. In July, Navalny’s business partner Leonid Volkov revealed on Twitter that Roskomnadzor wrote to YouTube accusing his personal YouTube channel of 126,000 subscribers of containing “calls for misses, carrying out extremist activity.” Another Navalny ally, Vladimir Milov, former Russian Deputy Minister of Energy, also revealed on Twitter in July that his YouTube channel (with 250,000 subscribers) was now on Roskomnadzor’s official blacklist of “banned materials” .

Prominent Putin critic and former hedge fund financier Bill Browder said Forbes today that entrepreneurs in Russia are faced with a difficult decision. “All of these people are in a difficult situation. On the one hand, they just want to run their search engines around the world … [But] when they encounter these situations, they are faced with a very bad Faustian deal. To continue doing business, they must obey the dictator’s orders. It’s just not as rosy as it is in Silicon Valley.


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