Some analysts have suggested that the government believes that YouTube is too popular to block without risking a political setback or increasing the popularity of VPNs. But others claim that the Google exemption is linked to the company’s trump card, which is in the pockets of approx. 75 percent of Russians. “Most smartphones in Russia are Android [which runs on Google’s operating system], not Apple, because they’re cheaper, ”says Sergey Sanovich, a research assistant at Princeton University. “It’s significantly technically harder to censor mobile data and applications as opposed to websites.”
It can also be difficult to block some Google services without affecting others, says Karen Kazaryan, director and founder of the Moscow-based Internet Research Institute. “Google’s cloud infrastructure is a very complex thing,” Kazaryan says. “When you start trying to block something, you can accidentally block something unrelated, and then some critical service will just stop working.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine simply exacerbated the problems Google’s subsidiary was already facing in the country. Over the years, the Moscow office has struggled with increasingly stringent laws governing the Internet and a steady stream of finesranging from $ 11,000 to $ 100 million, for its refusal to remove content. Google told WIRED that there will be no change to YouTube’s content moderation policies associated with its bankruptcy application.
This is not the first time Google has closed an office in Moscow. In 2014 it was moved its engineers out of town to protest new data protection rules. But in recent years, efforts have increased. In September 2021, Russian authorities visited the home of one of Google’s top executives and told her to delete an app linked to activist Alexei Navalny from the Google Play Store or risk jail time. When Google set up the director at a hotel under a different name, the same agents showed up at her room to tell her that the clock was still ticking, according to Washington Post, which did not name the executive. Within a few hours, the app had been deleted.
Kazaryan believes that part of the reason Google has persevered in Russia, despite so many challenges, is that its co-founder is Russian. “I think it’s a bit sentimental because of Sergey Brin,” he says. Brin, who lived in the Soviet Union until he was 5 years old, has previously recounted how his experience growing up in a political system that censored speech shaped Google’s policies, “It has certainly shaped my views, and some of the my company’s views, “he said New York Times in 2010.
The company’s Russian subsidiary also earned billions of dollars in revenue. In an earnings call, Google said 1 percent of its global revenue came from Russia in 2021, up from 0.5 percent the year before, which would amount to $ 2.5 billion – the same amount it earned from the UK in 2020. The company would have expected this revenue to grow, says Dan Ives, an analyst at Wedbush. “Google went the same way as Microsoft, where there was a lot of hope that they could expand in Russia over the next few decades,” he says.