[News] Google and Apple cave in to Russian Federation
Google and Apple caved into Russian government pressure by pulling an app offering alternate candidate information, just days before the Russian elections last weekend.
The voting app had been created by supporters of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny and provided information to potential voters about opposition candidates for parliamentary seats that had the best chance of defeating incumbents.
The Russian Federation had been trying for weeks to get the ‘Smart Voting’ app removed from the Russian Google Play and Apple App stores, claiming the app was illegally interfering in Russia’s election.
Both companies met with officials last week to discuss the government’s concerns. Wired reports that Apple capitulated after the meeting, and Google gave in after Russian authorities threatened employees with serious criminal charges.
With Navalny’s previous poisoning and now imprisonment, the barring of many opposition candidates from running, and then finally the removal of the app, opposition to the dominant United Russia party was effectively silenced. As Ivan Zhdanov, the director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), tweeted: “Removing the Navalny app from stores is a shameful act of political censorship.”
The ability of a government to twist the arms of the world’s largest tech companies on the eve of an election should concern everyone. And indeed, the actions of the Russian government, as well as those of Apple and Google, are not sitting well with many activists and politicians all over the world. While it’s not unprecedented for governments to get involved (for example, the Chinese government has placed many restrictions on tech companies operating in the country, including requiring companies to use Chinese servers), this is a worrisome development.
As Wired points out, “something so baldly political as the takedown of a voting guide app is an alarming and dangerous new frontier.”
The decision to remove the app isn’t sitting well with Google employees either. Bloomberg reports that some employees are complaining about Google “Putin the user first.” William Echikson, former Google employee and leader of their free expression policy in Europe said, “They were pretty good at standing up to this stuff in the past,” he told Bloomberg. “But perhaps there’s not the same idealism at the company any more. I suspect that standing up to governments is just not top of the list of their priorities.”
And although the Russian election is over, the story continues. Zhdanov suggested that his team is considering legal action against both Apple and Google, and that could lead to policy changes in the future. This is definitely something the tech world will be watching.
In other news
- An Epik data leak. In a significant data breach, Anonymous has obtained several gigabytes of customer data from Epik, a web hosting company, and has released this data online. According to TechRadar, the motivation for this breach and data dump is opposition to the new Texas anti-abortion law. Under this law, anyone could turn whistleblower and report an abortion on a special website. Protests forced the website from GoDaddy, and the organizers turned to Epik—a company known for hosting conservative websites—for hosting. Although Epik quickly pulled the site as violating their Terms of Service, it wasn’t fast enough for the company to become a target for Anonymous and serve as a warning to any other company willing to host the website.
- Exciting new emojis coming your way. Good news to all those who like their smiley faces — the Unicode Consortium has finalized Unicode 14.0 and with it, they’re adding 37 new emojis. These include a variety of new handshake emojis with a variety of skin tone options, a saluting face, and male and non-binary pregnancy emojis. There will also be this writer’s favorite addition: a troll emoji. As the Unicode blog noted, these additions “will mean that nearly all emojis can have default a gender-neutral option, with the choice to use a woman or man where relevant.”
- Spot, go fetch! Boston Dynamics has taken Spot, the robotic dog, to the next level. Engadget reports that the new version allows the robot to navigate around obstacles without human intervention. It can also plan missions in advance using learning that it gained from previous excursions in the same location. With all of the mapping data out there, Google Street View, and other information, it doesn’t seem all that far-fetched that Spot will be able to travel entirely autonomously to a given location to retrieve items or find someone at a given address.
- Throw away your charging cables. What if you didn’t have to tether your phone and other devices to keep them charged throughout the day? Soon that could be a reality. As described in the Interesting Engineering blog, researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Tokyo are working on a system that would allow you to charge your devices just by walking into a room. They’ve figured out how to send 50 watts of electricity through the air using only magnetic fields. While the article suggests the technology won’t be available any time soon, we hope they hurry — we only have 22% battery power left!
Tip of the week
Avoid long, boring videos by reading how-to tips on YouTube
YouTube is one of the best, if not the best, places to get how-to advice and in-depth instructions on millions of tasks. From watering plants to sound-proofing a noisy apartment, if you need step-by-step instructions, there’s a great chance someone has created a video about it on YouTube.
But sometimes those videos are long and boring. Or else the creator made an exhaustive video of a lengthy process, and you just need the next-to-last step. Radio host and entrepreneur Kim Komando recently shared a tech tip that’s perfect in these situations.
As Kim explained on USA Today, “To see a video’s transcript, open the video in YouTube and press the three dots or the more option underneath the video’s title. Choose Transcript from the dropdown menu. The only time you won’t get a transcript is if the video owner disabled it, but that hardly ever happens.”
When reading a transcript, it’s much easier to skim through the text and find exactly what you’re looking for. You might even discover small details that you miss when watching or listening to a video on a small screen. It’s also easier to digest written words at your own pace, skipping ahead or going back as needed.