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Russia, after protests, tells Google not to advertise “illegal” events (reuters.com)
108 points by rumcajz 69 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 84 comments

I find it interesting on HN how inevitably the commenters reach for "Google should disobey the law here" in stories like these. As if megacorps weren't terrifying enough, now we expect them to extrajudiciously decide which laws they think are "just" enough to obey or not? And then simultaneously when it comes to privacy laws (GPDR etc.) we also clutch our pearls about how these companies aren't doing enough!

Don't get me wrong: clearly unjust laws exist and there exist situations where resistance is the moral thing to do. I just find it terrifying how quickly people jump to saying it'd be appropriate for obscenely powerful companies like Google to make up their own legal system and pick and choose which laws apply to them.

(Disclaimer: Google employee / American citizen, find both orgs frightening)

A big issue is the legality or illegality of these protests is itself being disputed.

These protests are in large part about Russian citizens reasserting their constitutional rights both to participate in elections (as currently all the opposition candidates to Moscow municipal elections have been denied access to elections, and many of them have been arrested) and to their right of unarmed protest and demonstration (Articles 32 and 31 respectively of Russian constitution).

In this regard, the claim of the protesters (disputed, of course, by Russian government) is that their actions are explicitly legal under Russian law, and instead the actions of the Russian government in forbidding this protest and arresting participants are illegal and violate the constitution. The argument is that these restrictions to assemble and protest don't have to be obeyed by anyone - citizens or Google - as they're unconstitutional and can't be valid law.

Just like in US, in Russia, some protests require permits, especially if they interfere with day-to-day of other citizens.



I’m not saying the law is good. But if it does exist, and people don’t obey it, they are indeed doing something illegal.

They tried to get permits, but ... for some unfortunate chain of events they never got the paperwork right. So now it's illegal, hence the tanks! The rule of law is perfect, only these protesters cannot seem to fill out a simple form. Maybe they need some re-education.

I'm former Russian resident.

First, there are still some cases when permission for protest event is not required. It's a picketing performed by single person, for example. In this case police will pack protester in a matter of few minutes and deliver him to a police station for fake reason like "personality identification". So, legitimacy is not the thing.

Government doesn't appreciate protests, so it creates artificial barriers by means of law manipulation, and it'll always be winning in this field. All this paperwork required to approve meeting is like implicit reject, or a lever which allows to mitigate real impact of social event. Namely, it can be approved to conduct meeting on the edge of the city in time when it will be not relevant anymore.

Protests are social counterweight, which allows people to push back. The very idea that counterweight be dependent from other's side permission is just ridiculous.

It only looks like that when you view it one-dimensionally.

In truth, there is a kind of Grand Unified Law, of which we are still working out the details, which we (whether we realize it or not) want companies to follow. It is law based on ethics and morality, and no legal infrastructure in any country today is entirely accommodating of this law.

The fact is that we live in a world full of corrupt politics, and most of the time when companies have to "play ball" with requests such as censorship, it's a bad thing. We are working on the GUL but we do know that it includes freedom of speech.

This is very separate from things like regulations and safety measures, which are obviously in place for a reason and which would also exist in this hypothetical GUL.

You simply cannot break it down as "sometimes you want them to follow the law and sometimes you don't", because the law is imperfect and does not currently reflect the best case scenario. I would resist censorship in another country and I expect Google, et al. to do the same on the basis of putting ethics before money.

I think what you're saying is that morality exists outside of the rule of law, which I agree with.

But then you're saying that you think that companies like Google are morally equipped to be able to determine this law better than states would, which I think is where you lose me. Legal systems are also imperfect but at least there is oversight and (at least symbolic) input from citizens.

>But then you're saying that you think that companies like Google are morally equipped to be able to determine this law better than states would

I don't think it's outrageous at all to think Google's determinations are more reasonable than those of Russia.

It's only when you start smudge out Russia, pluralizing it into "states" generally, that it becomes a harder question. And I personally think this move blurs the focus of conversation, and degrades it. As jayd16 and other commenters are pointing out, this conversation is getting muddied with slippery-slopeism.

Exactly. Such generalization in the world of politics only serves to confuse and distract from the reality we live in.

Flawlessly moral or not, choosing to do nothing or choosing to obey is also a moral decision.

But you're also muddying a clear case of free speech, that Americans find a basic human right with, slippery-slopeism.

How much oversight and input do you think citizens have in Russia? Seems like in this particular case, their government is directly opposing the citizens who, in theory, would provide that oversight.

That is true, but it's still not for corporations to decide. I hate the system they have imposed on them but that still doesn't give me the right to decide what's right and wrong. Same goes with China. If Google doesn't like it then they can always exert their influence in other ways.

Corporations can decide whatever they wish and face the appropriate consequences.

For example, if I owned a hypothetical corporation whose goal was to provide tools for people in harsh political climates to utilize democratic means of resistance against their government, who is it for to decide whether or not giving this technology to, say, the people of Hong Kong is the right thing?

Is it China's? Haha, no. It's mine. It's my decision.

This is another example of generalization to the point of harm. Not all corporations are equal. They are just groups of people with shared goals.

I'm having trouble thinking why an undemocratic government would have any more of a right to decide. We don't believe in the divine right of kings anymore.

In this particular situation, the protestors are demanding free elections, exactly what would give the government legitimacy. Seems to me the easiest policy to justify would be for corporations to support democratic governments and movements, and ignore the demands of despots.

Morality can exist outside of the law but the law is not about morality. The law is/should be the "stable" version of morality because the latter is a lot more flexible than the former. And in a functioning systems the law should be adapted to the morals of society every once in a while.

Edit: Just imagine how some of your moral concepts conflict with those of your grandparents, and how many of them would conflict with those of your grandchildren. What would the law use as a compass at any time? The general consensus of the time or a possible random evolution from the future?

And wouldn't laws in a democracy explicitly reflect the views of that majority since they are created by the representatives of that majority?

To be fair, there is no such thing as the morals of society. Morality is individual to everyone and is developed throughout everyone's whole lives. So the law cannot possibly be a stable version of morality.

For example, in my morals it is not acceptable to imprison people for non-violent crimes, but most people are somehow convinced that it's ok. We can never agree on a stable version of morality on this.

> there is no such thing as the morals of society

Isn't it like saying "there's no image, only individual photons or pixels"?

> For example, in my morals

But if you take a few steps back you notice individual morals blending into something that could be called society morals. Society overall considers something (un)acceptable or (im)moral regardless of whether you disagree.

Look at interracial or same sex marriages. Decades ago society saw them as immoral even if some individuals disagreed. Today society sees them as moral even if some individuals disagreed

This misses the point I was trying to make. We were further away from the Grand Unified Law back then. But not all of us. Some people even millenia ago were ahead of the curve and promoted progressivism even in the face of a government which did not recognize individual freedom. Just ask my patron saint, Joan of Arc.

The morals of society are a useless tool for measuring objective morality.

Some people at the top of the hierarchy push it and promote it, doesn't mean other people agree with any of it, they are just powerless against it. Why do you take it as society agrees I don't know, but I can understand why those at the top of the hierarchy would like you to think there's the morals of society.

Ok, this seems like a different argument from the one you made above, that morality is purely individual.

If the overall morals of society (as represented by the majority) don't get transposed into law then we go back to my original comment:

> in a functioning systems the law should be adapted to the morals of society

In a democracy the top of the hierarchy is chosen to represent the views of individuals that elected them.

Edit: Whether the morals of society are dictated by the few (rulers) or by the many (people) it doesn't change the conclusion. At some point the balance regarding society's view on the morality of certain things tips. And as an individual you are still very much the product of society. Can we agree that there are things now where there is a societal consensus regarding their morality?

There are actually very few things where societies over time consistently agreed on their morality (like theft).

Like a parent angrily spanking his young for making a mess, the typical human has not been taught to separate justice from revenge, and so we settle for spiteful punishment.

Read the Letters from Birmingham Jail to gain some insight on the obligation to protest unjust laws.

This whole argument is ludicrous. In the US, it would be unconstitutional for the president to censor protest. So if your argument is that laws are morality, how do you square the conflict between these two nation's laws?

Re: Edit >And wouldn't laws in a democracy explicitly reflect the views of that majority since they are created by the representatives of that majority?

Not if dissent has been crushed.

> So if your argument is that laws are morality

My point was explicitly that the laws of a society catch up but they are inherently almost always behind the morality of that society. What you're describing is not only this delay but also the fact that you're talking about 2 different societies. And when the system above doesn't work it's not a democracy.

> And wouldn't laws in a democracy

> Not if dissent has been crushed.

If a democracy crushes dissent it's either not a democracy or the views of the majority demand that dissent be crushed. Again, the point was that if society overall changes it's views on morality of things, laws tend to eventually follow. Either by force (overthrowing the oppressive regime) or by vote. Take the examples of race and sexuality to see how laws were changes as the views of society changed.

Changed through the civil rights movements which featured many illegal protests.

Indeed. Doesn't this perfectly confirm my theory that morality can/does exist outside of the law, and that the law is usually behind, getting "synchronized" once in a while according to the morals of society?

A number of people today seem to be willing to grant that Google is a better arbiter of morality than the real selectorate, and this is not a mistake I think.

Google clearly has an interest in circumventing U.S. cultural norms (for financial and ideological profit), and the best way to do it is to convince some number of Americans that they're suppressing the "bad people" and promoting the "good people".

This time around, the useful dupes are mostly authoritarian progressives. Over time, the authoritarian progressives will make the association in the other direction: they will begin to believe that whoever Google suppresses must be a "bad person".

This is an article about Google being confronted by an authoritarian government that opposes US cultural norms... and you've somehow transformed it into exactly the opposite.

There is no opposite to US cultural norms. There is a wide spectrum of qualities and values of those qualities. However you want to characterize those "norms", a single act does not adequately engender or stifle a sense of Google's overall aims.

> Google clearly has an interest in circumventing U.S. cultural norms (for financial and ideological profit)

This is absolutely not clear at all.

Why wouldn't better access to information be good for Google? (the literal information company)

Who is “we”? A Grand Unified Law for a devout Muslim in the Middle East will look very different from a west coast technocrat.

> In truth, there is a kind of Grand Unified Law, of which we are still working out the details

What makes you believe that such Law exists at all? Or that we mortal humans or our organizations such as Google are computationally equipped to make correct decisions in accordance to such Law? Or that such Law is compatible with Western liberal morals? These are all very contentious propositions.

BTW someone on the Internet is writing a book on this and related topics which is long, rambling and unfinished but still very thought-provoking and interesting. Here is a section (unfortunately, unfinished) on this exact problem: https://meaningness.com/ethical-eternalism

A possibly contentious idea I’ve been thinking about is that the Grand Unified Law isn’t constant in the universe, it seems to be parametrized by the society and technology at the time (see evolution of morality between hunter gatherers and agriculture societies).

There's no need to reinvent the concept of natural law. The idea traces at least as far back as Ancient Greece.

"Grand Unified Law".

Something like a Golden Rule?

(Something common to numerous major religious, jumping in before the critics....)

I never understood the principle of treating others as you want to be treated.

The way I want to be treated is going to be vastly different than the way others may want to be treated.

A simple example being feedback. I love harsh/super critical feedback where the person holds no punches back and which I can learn from. Another person may be terrified of this experience and would not enjoy it at all.

As with most maxims, the rule is simple, but subtle, and a naive interpretation ("do exactly what you'd prefer for yourself to others") quickly founders on shoals. Generally a small bit of life experience, intelligence, and empathy rapidly floats one over these reefs, however.

Used as a broader heuristic, the principle divides somewhat into "don't be a dick" (don't actively cause harm to others), and seek to understand their needs and wants, within reason, and if you're able to assist in securing those, again, within reason, try to do so. Most especially where reciprocated.

The devil resides in the usual places, and sorting those out becomes an interesting Lebenswerk.

> In truth, there is a kind of Grand Unified Law, of which we are still working out the details, which we (whether we realize it or not) want companies to follow. It is law based on ethics and morality

Companies are unethical and immoral anyway, so this doesn't work.

> As if megacorps weren't terrifying enough, now we expect them to extrajudiciously decide which laws they think are "just" enough to obey or not?

They decide that for themselves already and are fined routinely for this.

We live in a society where the power pyramid of merchants and nobles is twisting to inversion.

There's still situations where the nobles reign. Nothing they have really matches the flexibility that merchants do when wielding their power.

People are appealing to power when they ask that google disobey a country's sovereignty. It's probably a misappraisal of google's power in Russia. Google is neck and neck in search with Yandex. It's hard to wield a stranglehold you don't have.

In America, google is having lots of success positioning itself as the prime broker for commerce.

Amazon's trying to build a tower that subsumes commerce with depth vs. google's breadth. EC2 is attacking search's foundation from the other side.

If you host the majority of content, you have territorial advantages and ways you can undermine google's usefulness. The amazon market is their flank attack. If everything you want is in one place, no need to search.

Facebook tries to be the ultimate broker of human relationships, and maintain de-facto control over downstream commerce from that high hill.

The government has a de jure monopoly on use of force, but how useful is that against controlling relationships, and therefore elections -- or commerce, and therefore the economy? The government looks outmatched to me.

It makes sense the peasants, yeoman and burghers would address their geopolitical wishes to those with actionable global soft power.

Why do you say it's quick, as if the concept of Google, censorship, and illegal protests just came to be?

This is just the latest example.

HN is not a single unified voice. Many have been speaking against all the instances of perceived government overreach you point out (GDPR etc). What is and isn't overreach/immoral is obviously not the same across peoples and groups and actions. This comes across as interesting to you only because the hypocrisy appears apparent by how you've grouped the actions and players.

HN is not a single unified voice, absolutely. Some of us have been championing GDPR, etc. ;-)


> treasonously adhere to Russia’s demands

Treasonous towards whom? Is it treasonous if Google complies with a EU law like GDPR?

Google can use Russian Constitution:

31. Citizens of the Russian Federation shall have the right to assemble peacefully, without weapons, hold rallies, meetings and demonstrations, marches and pickets.

Article 29

1. Everyone shall be guaranteed the freedom of ideas and speech.

2. The propaganda or agitation instigating social, racial, national or religious hatred and strife shall not be allowed. The propaganda of social, racial, national, religious or linguistic supremacy shall be banned.

3. No one may be forced to express his views and convictions or to reject them.

4. Everyone shall have the right to freely look for, receive, transmit, produce and distribute information by any legal way. The list of data comprising state secrets shall be determined by a federal law.

5. The freedom of mass communication shall be guaranteed. Censorship shall be banned.

PS. Im Russian and live here.

There is also federal act number 54-FZ, which says that the local authorities should be notified of the planned event (Article 5, section 4); and if the respective authority does not approve the event then it shall not be held (Article 5, section 5) [1]. This latter norm is criticized for being not entirely constitutional [2]; but it is a part of the present Russian legal framework. Should Google in any way be bound by this federal act?

1- [In Russian] http://www.consultant.ru/cons/cgi/online.cgi?rnd=91E57842AD2...

2- https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?p...

Didn't seem to work very well when Russia banned "gay propaganda." Russian constitution doesn't really seem worth the paper it's printed on and more or less is run by conservative-democratic mobs.

The penalties for involvement in non-permitted assemblies are legal due to article 55.3 of the same Constitution. The same article is used for Internet filtering and other !!fun!! stuff.

Similar for the Chinese constitution but that has little meaning in practice.

And on "illegal" events, the main thing Russian citizen is asking - that government must use our constitution too

> MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s state communications watchdog said on Sunday it had asked Google (GOOGL.O) to stop advertising “illegal mass events” on its YouTube video platform.

> Tens of thousands of Russians staged what observers called the country’s biggest political protest for eight years on Saturday, defying a crackdown to demand free elections to Moscow’s city legislature.

> The watchdog, Roscomnadzor, said Russia would consider it interference in its sovereign affairs and a hostile influence should Google fails to respond to the request.

If Google still follows "Don't be evil", it will respond with the equivalent of a middle finger. I hope someone there still thinks Enlightenment values are more important than kowtowing to a repressive government.

Firstly Google has ditched that slogan, so no use in trying to arbitrarily hold them to it. And secondly, Google has to operate within the law regardless of country.

If youtube was a Russian owned site hosting videos on US protests the US government would accuse it of 'sowing discord' and shut it down without controversy.

Now suppose Russia already has a history of meddling in US internal affairs and funding coups within the US, will Russian youtube with videos on US protests be really even allowed to operate here? Would anyone here even be making arguments about democracy, freedom and enlightenment?

There is always a kind of dissonance and double standards in these discussions. You can't let the harassment and persecution of whistle blowers like Assange, Snowden, Manning, the protestors at Standing Rock and immigrant activists and other brazen attacks on democracy go unchallenged and then claim to be 'concerned' about democracy in far off Russia or China. That is politics, not concern for values.

These values if they are to have any meaning can only apply to actions not actors, and using them to to demonize some and excuse others renders them meaningless, and in many ways this has already happened with the widespread abuse of human rights and democracy by some to achieve other objectives.

It's just too good - We have blamed Russia for using our platforms to elect someone. Now Russia is telling our platforms to block certain content otherwise they will consider it interference. The Cold War never ended did it?

Isn’t it pretty common policy for the US et al to promote pro democracy protests and politicians in other countries? If it did come from state backed information sources I could see some legitimacy to the claim but I doubt that’s the only thing they mean.

As always there will be tons of misdirection to hide the sources and overstating of the impact of foreign boogiemen for political points and justification of new information controls. It’s a tactic as old as politics.

> Isn’t it pretty common policy for the US et al to promote pro democracy protests and politicians in other countries?

No, the US have supported and promoted dozens of coups and dictators. The phrase you're looking for is not "pro democracy", it's "aligned with the US interests".

These kinds of criticisms can ring rather shallow and generic without examples. So here's an example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1953_Iranian_coup_d'%C3%A9tat

Another examples are dictatorial coups in Latin America supported by USA: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_involvement_in...

It's still pretty shallow and generic if the cited example occurred when my parents were still small children.

How, exactly? One day your children could say the same of political atrocities committed in your youth. Governments outlast people.

The infrastructure and incentives which drive it have not changed. America was founded and bred on colonialism and foreign dictatorships which enable cheap cost of living at the expense of hellish working conditions in other countries.

If you're going to claim that something is common practice, you should be able to do better than a 65-year-old example. There are certainly many more recent examples of American foreign policy screwups - some of which were vastly more destructive than Iran - but I'm not aware of any during my lifetime that involved overthrowing a democratically elected government.

By this logic, governments would never be held accountable for their actions if they simply waited to address them 65 years after the fact.

If you want to be a gatekeeper, expect everyone more powerful to force you to do gatekeeping for them.

The moment Google adhered to the first Roskomnadzor (or whatthefuck is its name) request they become gatekeepers.

After a certain point, simply due to the number of people on your platform, you become someone to be influenced / controlled / watched out for / a target / a friend / an enemy.

And other control brokers, large and small, will try to influence you. (And - to a degree - you can't escape it, you will be influenced. Now you have to counter it, embrace it, ignore it, understand it, downplay it, dodge it, amplify it, etc.)

Size (of potential influence) makes organizations, platforms, people targets, not "gatekeeping".

This was all entirely predictable, of course, but that didn't stop our entire press and most of our politicians from handing this talking point to Russia on a silver platter.

It's one thing to offer the wires, it's another to speak over them. If you were meaning to draw an equivalency it's not working out.

I think it is a naive view to think that the United States doesn't "speak over them."

This highlights one of the undermentioned issues of both international businesses of clashing sets of laws. It is surprising really that this is still done ad-hocly even after many years of international trade and shifting relationships between countries. It is flat out impossible to follow all sets of laws at once.

Even in a 'federate it out to one per country that follows its laws' would become rapidly problematic if linkage to the 'main' company. Google couldn't just set up say a Google-Iran following Iranian laws without violating sanctions.

I'm not sure if there either a 'good' universal answer or one which is widely liked. The easiest and most controlling would be a radical 'ban international business' - it would make the domains clearer but would be a bad idea. Extraterritorality would be a 'technical' solution but would also come with so many problems it isn't funny makes the previous bad idea look good in comparison.

Very good point, but surely this problem is not without precedent? Disputes in international waters come to mind. Maybe there is a need for some kind on international convention governing these matters.

Yeah but they weren't exactly "stable" - they were kinds of incidents which lead to / were used as pretexts for wars.

Internet and enforcibility complicate matters further - even if they formalized say a "free to host to everywhere but not to monetize".

How can a protest video be considered illegal in a country that claims to be an open and free democracy?

There was a time when I would expect Google to stick to its principles and say no. Nowadays, I'm not so sure.

The answer is so simple it's brilliant: you need a permission from the local police in order to organize a protest on a specific location at a specific time. In most of the cases, that works fine.

In a small number of cases when the authorities really don't want you to organize a protest, they'll keep denying you one location after the other using bullshit excuses until the date when the protest is set to happen. Then they can crack it down for "unlawful assembly".

Note that I'm not from Russia, but I am from a country that looks up to Russia for some forsaken reason and we have experienced protests getting killed in this fashion.

> you need a permission from the local police in order to organize a protest on a specific location at a specific time.

Correction #1: from a town administration, not a police.

Correction #2: the actual legal state of a non-permitted demonstration is fuzzy because while the right for it is given by the Constitution, organizers and any violations of "peace and unarmed" way could be penalized due to federal laws which are stated applicable by the same Constitution.

Is this a serious question?

Even if one ignores the obvious Russia-specific answer, there are plenty of reasons for a protest to be illegal in more western states. Normally it would be illegal to assemble on private land without permission, for example. And there are often laws requiring protests to eg seek permission for a planned route and stick to it (though these may not necessarily be enforced).

Arranging such events must still be legal and people should hear of them and decide for themselves whether they would like to participate. Even “illegal” gatherings are important for a democracy. Perhaps more so than legal ones.

I can’t imagine advertising assemblies without permits is illegal in many democracies?

A protest itself may or may not be illegal, depending on the country. The video of it, on the other hand...

A video encouraging people to participate in an illegal gathering could in some jurisdictions be considered a form of incitement.

Whose responsibility is it to filter content? It seems the Russian Federation wants Google to interpret the law instead of courts.

Perhaps you missed the bit where authorities said that "YouTube advertising instruments" were used to "disseminate information about unsanctioned (unlawful) mass gatherings”?

Oh the irony. Do as I say, not as I do.

Any one can provide a sample link to "“illegal mass events” on its YouTube video platform* ?

Why should Google listen to what they say? Pull the company from dictatorship regimes, and then ignore their commands.

> The watchdog, Roscomnadzor, said Russia would consider it interference in its sovereign affairs and a hostile influence should Google fails to respond to the request.

Given how the Russians are obviously meddling in elections around the world using hacking and disinformation campaigns, I don't think they really have any leg to stand on here. Their acceptance of flagrantly violating laws in other countries means that really the US, through Google, should be trying to meddle inside Russia to advocate for opposition parties and Democratic/civil society institutions. If the West could effectively organize mass anti-Putin protests and scare him, it seems beneficial in a world where his meddling has gone relatively unanswered except for sanctions.

Especially if our answer was "we" will focus on disseminating accurate information and supporting free speech, countering both authoritarianism and disinformation campaigns, it would become a brighter line of differing world philosophies and give some moral foundation in its connection to Western liberalism. It would be meddling through its support of individual rights, free expression, freedom to assemble, supporting free elections. It's similar to giving political asylum to persecuted opposition leaders who stand for liberalism and democracy and then amplifying their message from exile.

We should enshrine this support of such rights into some NGOs and international treaties (many of which we already have) that Democratic societies could sign and then multinational corporations would have a standard of international law to follow. Then instead of corporations having to choose which laws to follow, they would have more clarity through following international law.

And obviously there is a massive slippery slope in everything I just proposed.

It's like how the Bretton Woods Conference after WWII established the World Bank and the IMF to push a western global paradigm for how we think economic development, which entrenched a markets based system over a communist system. I think developing some new organizations / treaties that then help align how all these multinationals and Western governments work together in an era of the internet to push for certain rights, would be a net positive, while fraught proposition.

Right now massive amounts of power are being consolidated into a handful of internet companies, and that power is being manipulated to sow discord and disinformation to the benefit mostly of authoritarian regimes. We could way more effectively use this power to fight those regimes and begin to play offense instead of only defense.

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