Russia fined Google 21.1 billion rubles ($374 million) on Monday for repeatedly failing to “remove prohibited information” — content related to the country's invasion and subsequent war in Ukraine. The country's telecommunication watchdog Roskomnadzor cited a court order and said Google (particularly YouTube) didn't take down content that discredited “the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.”
The watchdog's press release also accused Google of not deleting “materials promoting extremism and terrorism” across its platforms. It noted that the fine was calculated based on the company's annual turnover in Russia, but it didn't specify any percentage.
Last month, the Russian telecommunication watchdog warned the company that it could face a fine of 5-10% of its turnover for repeated violation of local laws on restricted content. According to data from the Interfax news agency’s Spark database of Russian companies, Google's revenue for 2021 was 134.3 billion rubles ($2.3 billion). So the new fine would be around 15% of the company's annual turnover.
Last December, Russia issued Google its first revenue-based fine of 7.2 billion rubles ($98 million) in the country, for failing to remove illegal content as per the country's laws.
After Russia began attacking Ukraine in February, Google limited its services with steps including stopping billing on the Play Store and YouTube for Russian users, restricting Google News, pausing its ad sales in the country, and blocking YouTube channels of state-backed media. Other major tech giants like Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Cisco, and Dell also moved to reduce or exit business operations in Russia.
Notably, Google's Russia subsidiary filed for bankruptcy last month after local regulators froze its bank accounts in May. The company said it moved many of its employees out of Moscow after the fighting began.
While the country didn't ban YouTube or Google's services like Facebook and Instagram, it issued repeated warnings to the search giant for several reasons including “anti-Russia” ads and blocking state-sponsored media's YouTube channel.
Russia has been waging a major propaganda war to bolster its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Russia's actions have been met with strong rebuke both outside of the country and within it, so in an effort to suppress the news about the attack that is critical of its actions, Russia has been controlling the flow of information as much as it can. It passed a law in March that threatened those in the media with up to 15 years of jail time for reporting what it deemed “fake news” about its invasion of Ukraine. In response, several news outlets and social media companies like TikTok shut down their operations or limited their services in the country.
Google's trials and tribulations in Russia come at a time when it is facing other problems in Europe, albeit for very different reasons. In Denmark, authorities have banned Chromebooks and Google Workspace in schools over data protection violations. In France, Italy, and Austria, regulators are currently investigating Google Analytics's data protection practices.
We have reached out to Google for a comment.