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Google, Apple remove Navalny app from stores as Russian elections begin (reuters.com)
911 points by exizt88 39 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 641 comments



Reuters doesn't report this, but the government officials threatened the companies (Apple and Google) with jail time for their employees yesterday. After that the companies finally conceded. There's a short video fragment from the meeting of the government officials and the companies representatives. It's worth watching, especially if you come from a democratic nation.

Letting your Russian employees be persecuted don't amount to "doing the right thing".


Except that by this point, all this is expected behaviour.

If companies don't want to be complicit in these crimes, they need to extricate themselves from the country and cut all ties.

If they do want to put profit ahead of everything else, then whatever, but you don't get to defend them as doing the right thing for their employees. They're enabling the whole situation.

[Edit to bring in a sister question] "Why don't Apple pull out of China then?" - because they put profit and cheap manufacturing ahead of their morals. And apparently we don't care enough that China effected a genocide while we watched.


> If they do want to put profit ahead of everything else, then whatever, but you don't get to defend them as doing the right thing for their employees. They're enabling the whole situation.

IMHO, cooperating with an authoritarian regime in this way should be illegal, sort of like a sanctions violation. Cook and Pachai should go to jail for this. That consequence might clarify their thinking a little.


Hmmm.

Withdraw the app and you go to jail. Don’t withdraw the app and your Russian employees go to jail


Fire your Russian employees.

Then withdraw.

Hurts but if history should learn us a thing or two one of them should be not to give in to dictators.

The younger ones here are allowed to take a few minutes off to use their favorite search engine to look up the quote "peace in our time" by Chamberlain.

Edit:

It looks so simple the way I wrote it above. Please note that doing the right thing isn't easy. Telling lots of people their job is gone. Telling investors the money invested in one of the most promising markets is gone etc etc.

But I am afraid that sooner or later the alternative will be worse.


> Fire your Russian employees.

More like move them to a better place if they prefer this to simply terminating the contract. Benefits are numerous - retain already-hired quality personnel, have a good PR campaign about being moral and holy and doing the extra mile with bureaucracy (which would be true), grow some extra hairy balls overnight. Or something similar.


Good points.

Russia unlike certain others probably won't torture their loved ones because of this.


Of course, if they ever go back to Russia, they risk prosecution. Rather rough deal.


“Leave and never be able to visit your family for as long as the current regime lasts” is a tough call. People do do that, but the pain of remaining has to be very high to make the tradeoffs palatable.


Pavel Durov knows a bit of this I heard.


He doesn't. He regularly visited Saint Petersburg office after being "exiled".



It won't be worse for either Cook or Pichai though.


Option 3: choose to make less money and don't have offices in countries with human rights records as bad as russia. I know this isn't realistic, because we can't expect a company to make less money. that'd be crazy!


Surely option 4 is the best option - the US government issues a list of countries within which no US business can have any operations or sales. Better than leaving it to individual companies.

Don’t forget to write up your list and start lobbying your congressional representative


No - this is elementary game theory. By precommitting to "if I withdraw the app I will go to jail", then the Russian threat would become ineffective and they wouldn't make it to begin with.

Granted, the real world is more complicated but this is equivalent of using the strategy of disabling your steering wheel before playing a game of chicken.


It's not a game of chicken. Russia is well prepared to collide - did that many times. Threats won't work - actually jailing important Russians abroad for supporting Russian organizations under sanctions will.

Direct action is the primary working approach here.

For those reasons Google and Apple should be considered aiding and abetting Russian government now. Not quite illegal as of now - but how well it looks?


> Google and Apple [are] aiding and abetting Russian government now. Not quite illegal … - but how well it looks?

Meh, no quite as bad as the US quietly making Russia its second largest supplier of oil, no?

[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-08-04/russia-ca...

If you want to starve Crazy Ivan of his forex…


The only winning move is not to play (i.e. don't have offices in authoritarian states)


Bingo. Those who do have offices should also feel heat from unfair competition, so this should be legalized somehow.


[flagged]


If you look more close into Chamberlain’s record it’s pretty clear he was playing for time while he put his efforts into Britain’s depleted armed forces and armaments. It wasn’t all about appeasement.


I know it, and I know that British Empire had absolutely monstrous material advantage over Germany, enough to sweep it within months in mid-thirties.


The irony here is that your idea sounds pretty authoritarian!


I agree. All US companies should be required to fully withdraw from countries with active dictatorships.

Unfortunately, US companies have lost all trace of ethics. Most product companies now have planned obsolence, and use regulatory capture and abusive patents to grow revenues rather than putting customers first.

We are truly in the twilight of the free market.


I do not support Cook and Pachal getting arrested over submitting to Putin over their employees being held hostage, but they should definitely pull Apple and Google out of Russia and Communist China. US government should help out, at least by prohibiting US citizens from traveling to these regions without a special exception. Should be easy to do during the pandemic anyway, beats me why the government is so weak about it.


'authoritarian regime' is a slippery slope. There can be clear human violations, but at what point does a government become authoritarian? USA has plenty of violations on its shoulders, perhaps complicit in many others. I would not call it authoritarian but it has been repressive (Citing USA as a clear example, not picking on particular politics). Genocide is distinctively clear from freedom of expression, so by no means should this be constructed to justify that. A war has many battles, so perhaps in this case there would be compromises. Why these companies are working with China needs a deeper discussion.


Why do you always bring up USA when people are talking about injustices in other countries?

Every time.


They could be simply paid opinions.


Assumablely in this hypothetical, it would be the USA arresting Cook and Pachai, no?


If you mean discussions at HN then that may be because folks here are mostly Americans who are interested in and aware of things in their country like any other nation. As a Russian (concluded from your post history), don't you see the same thing in Russian communities?


Define "authoritarian regime"


Just because there are shades of grey, doesn’t mean we can’t tell black from white.


I am not convinced that we can tell black from white.

I also think that there ought to be a certain level of relativism when it comes to judging political systems.

Is it democratic that an unelected group of 9 people can unilaterally essentially decide the law of the land in the US?


>Is it democratic that an unelected group of 9 people can unilaterally essentially decide the law of the land in the US?

Are republican (little r) systems inherently authoritarian in your view?

Do you actually fear that SCOTUS is going to start imposing some sort of autocratic control over American government? I'm not. You probably aren't either. There are institutional explanations for this.


I would describe qualified immunity as starkly autocratic, and it was written whole-cloth by the supreme court.


I actually consider myself a staunch (little r) republican.

That said, Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy (a seminal republican text) was quite clear that republican mixed government does involve mixing a bit of democracy with a bit of authoritarianism/autocracy. I do think it is "authoritarian", but I don't think it is necessarily bad.

My question is merely: why can we extend this sort of support to mixed government in our country, but seemingly consider many of the other forms of mixed government in action as pure authoritarian tyranny?


How is the US constitutional system remotely relevant in this discussion?


Because every political system has elements of "authoritarianism"/decisions being made by unelected officials.

For instance, we often criticize Iran as being authoritarian, but compared to many of our allies elsewhere, Iran is actually relatively democratic, even if they have authoritarian "checks" just like we do with the Supreme Court.


I have a hard time understanding what you mean about Iran:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supreme_Leader_of_Iran

Seems like a dictatorship to me.


it's an excellent question which your reply doesn't address.

There's black and white with grey in between. Whether you report the shades of grey as black or white depends on who you ask and what is offered for comparison.

Is india an authoritarian regime? You'll find plenty of evidence going both ways. What about Belarus? Hungary? Venezuela?

The grey is precisely why having yes/no binaries like this leads to more confusion.


> Define "authoritarian regime"

A simple rule of thumb definition (that could probably use some refinement) is regimes that are either explicitly anti-democratic or a sham democracy. Russia certainly falls into the latter category, as this very story demonstrates.

In most cases, it's not that hard.


[flagged]


> This story is sufficient to demonstrate that Russia is a "sham democracy"?

It's just another example among many. Russia is a sham democracy because the government takes action to prevent opposition politicians from gaining power.

> Does the fact that Twitter/Facebook/et al banned the NYPost in the run-up to the 2020 election as well as preventing people from sending links to NYPost articles in their DMs "demonstrate" anything about the US?

I sense you think it shows some kind of equivalency, which is not true. Actually, if those organizations had to run the NY Post story, the US would be closer to a sham than it is.


> Actually, if those organizations had to run the NY Post story, the US would be closer to a sham than it is.

Hm, guess I'd like to live in a sham democracy then, as blocking me from sending certain political thoughts in my chat messages is unacceptable to me.

I'd rather have this power in the hands of publicly-sanctioned, rules-based agents than arbitrary private actors who can interfere with me at any time for whatever reason they want. Philip Pettit has written quite well on this issue.


> Hm, guess I'd like to live in a sham democracy then, as blocking me from sending certain political thoughts in my chat messages is unacceptable to me.

No one's blocking you. Go put a sign up in your front yard, just don't complain your rights are being trampled when I don't let you put up a sign in my yard.

Other people have rights too, and that includes the right not to cooperate with you.


Yes, this is a good exemplification of the "freedom as non-interference" view that Pettit criticizes. This conception has become very popular in the 20th century, especially among libertarians.

The image of society given by your picture does not resemble real life. Facebook and I are not equal actors akin to neighbors disputing over what gets put in their front yard.

It is this recognition that we are not equal neighbors that is the reason we have labor protections, minimum wage laws, campaign finance laws, etc.


> The image of society given by your picture does not resemble real life. Facebook and I are not equal actors analogous to neighbors disputing over what gets put in their front yard.

You're never going to have a society that equal. Do you all the sudden have the right to put signs up at my house because it's bigger or on a busier street than yours? Should you be able to put chapters in the books I write because no one wants to read yours?

I think there are good arguments that Facebook is too big and should be broken up, but the NY Post Hunter Biden "story" isn't one of them. It was garbage, and filtering out garbage is an important function. I'm familiar enough with garbage to realize that.


> Do you all the sudden have the right to put signs up at my house because it's bigger or on a busier street than yours?

No, I have the right to put signs up at your house because you put up a bulletin board and actively invited anyone in the neighborhood to put signs on it.

It's either open to the general public or it's not, and if you pick "not", the onus is on you to at least refrain from actively and ubiquitously contradicting that.


The whole point is that this sign on yard analogy is just not relevant to real world circumstance. Facebook and Twitter have outsized control over how I socialize with others.

If every major cell phone provider chose to stop delivering any text with that article attached to it, would that be acceptable? What if they decided to unilaterally stop delivering any texts from the Trump campaign?

Clearly there is a line to be drawn, and falling back on "it's their private property and thus their right to filter it however they want" is not sufficient in the 21st century, in the age of platform companies and extreme corporate consolidation.

> It was garbage, and filtering out garbage is an important function

Garbage? It was new, previously unreported information. I voted for Joe Biden, and I still found it of interest - and it did appear to contradict some things Biden had said publicly.


> The whole point is that this sign on yard analogy is just not relevant to real world circumstance. Facebook and Twitter have outsized control over how I socialize with others.

So? They only have that kind of power over you because you chose to give it to them.

If I have cool friends, and you decided to organize your social life around visiting my house to see them, it's not my problem if you don't have a place to socialize if I sour on you and exclude you.

> Clearly there is a line to be drawn, and falling back on "it's their private property and thus their right to filter it however they want" is not sufficient in the 21st century, in the age of platform companies and extreme corporate consolidation.

My perspective is compelled speech or compelled cooperation with political speech is just as bad as censorship, so if that's your solution, you have to find a different one.

> Garbage? It was new, previously unreported information.

If the NY Post has a picture of Biden shitting on the toilet, that would also be "new, previously unreported information." It would also be garbage. Those categories aren't mutually exclusive.


I mean..

> The Post, According to a survey conducted by Pace University in 2004, was rated the least credible major news outlet in New York.

from https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/new-york-post/


Absolutely, they are incredibly biased and basically a rag outlet.

In no way does that justify preventing me from sending true information relevant to a public figure in a chat.


I think it makes sense to block a known-unreliable news outlet because they are usually seen as sources of authoritative, correct information, and once they have proven they are no longer reliable, anything they say no longer holds the same weight of proper journalistic integrity (essentially losing the privilege of trust and perceived "authority").

If there is true, factual information they posted about, the same information can almost surely be sourced from another, more reputable news outlet that is known to fact-check and provide accurate information.

FWIW, I blocked/muted NYPost twitter account years ago because of their vitriolic, sensationalized and misleading click-bait articles. If you can't convey important news without manipulating me, you have no credibility and are no better than a grocery-store-checkout tabloid.


Who decides what outlet is reliable? Should that be blocked from my text messages?

Should the standard be to only allow articles written by reputable outlets, which have been known to bury stories (such as those demonstrating war crimes by the US military)?

I just completely disagree with you I guess. I should be free to send whatever I want in private chat messages with my friends, even if it is politically unsavory.


Yeah, tbh I don't see FB/Twitter as good platforms to have private conversations with friends. Partly for the reason you mention, as well as them being tools of ultra-pervasive surveillance. I don't trust businesses to respect my privacy or even my rights (especially because laws are always severely behind technical innovations). I don't even use Facebook anymore for these reasons.

And yeah, I believe text messages (SMS) are indeed filtered, sadly. I just saw an article about exactly this subject[0] where a company with a .xyz domain was finding that SMS containing their domain were not being delivered! Pretty disappointing.

This whole thread could be a good indicator of the future of online communication, and my personal advice is to start looking at "end-to-end encrypted (with no back doors)" as a requirement for any communication platform you use with friends & family. Too bad such a feature is extremely rare :(

[0] https://www.spotvirtual.com/blog/the-perils-of-an-xyz-domain... (and HN discussion at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28554400 )


Look, I agree with most of the sentiments you're expressing - but I don't think it is reasonable to hold out hope that everyday Americans will come to this realization. The platforms are powerful, even if we as individuals choose not to use them.

Take campaign finance, for instance. I'm of the opinion that we need much stronger campaign finance laws.

Your response, to me, reads similar to "well, I don't watch ads on TV and I certainly wouldn't vote for someone based on a 10 second ad, so I don't think campaign finance needs reform." The issue is that millions of people do watch those ads, just like millions of people do rely on tech platforms to contact their friends, socialize, engage in political discourse, etc.


Yeah, that makes sense. As much as I try to drag friends/family into more secure communication methods (iMessage(lol), Signal, Matrix, etc.), it's an uphill battle. No one wants to leave the convenience and ubiquity of FB Messenger, WhatsApp, etc.

IMO I feel that NY Post should basically be shut down and banned from publication due to their harmful, divisive rhetoric and blatant lies, but conversely I don't agree with filtering private communication. My personal opinion is that once a given platform allows freeform communication between two people, that communication should be completely private and unable to be filtered or censored. tbh I suppose our exchange has helped me clarify those views a bit ;)


>Does the fact that Twitter/Facebook/et al banned the NYPost in the run-up to the 2020 election as well as preventing people from sending links to NYPost articles in their DMs "demonstrate" anything about the US?

Not about its government, given that they did not demand (or even informally pressure) that the tech companies involved make this move.


So it's not a "sham" if large private corporations heavily tilt the scales on who gets elected? Only the reverse?


Where does the US MSM and social media refusing to cover anything about Hunter Biden put us?


US MSM did cover hunter Biden extensively. Fox and other right wing propaganda stations are still a part of the MSM.

Mind you, every other station covered it heavily too. The sitting president was impeached over the hunter Biden story


> Where does the US MSM and social media refusing to cover anything about Hunter Biden put us?

I'm not a huge fan of Joe Biden (as you can probably infer from my comments here https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28550896), but the Hunter Biden stuff was a shameless distraction with no real substance.

So to answer your question: if the US MSM and social media was required to run smears of a sitting president against his opponent, the US would be far closer to being a sham democracy.


>but the Hunter Biden stuff was a shameless distraction with no real substance.

Uh, that's really not a strong affirmative justification for taking active measures to stop people from using your platform to share a story. And of course the real problem is not simply that the story was suppressed, but that we all know that media platforms do not in fact have a blanket policy against reporting on "shameless distractions with no real substance", and that this sort of post-hoc rationalizing of obvious partisan bias is intellectually insulting.


They do have policies against spreading misinformation.


Yes, and those policies are not evenly applied. That's the issue. iirc Twitter caught some flak for initially justifying the suppression of the story based on the fact that it had come from "hacking" the laptop, and then only let up after it was pointed out that there were many other examples of stories like this that were not suppressed.


A presidential candidates crackhead son laundering payoffs from foreign governments is a distraction?


In our case the sham is that the MSM is independent from the political powers. It’s quite elegant really. And regardless of how transparent it is, roughly half the population will reliably believe the MSM is somehow impartial, because it tells them so.

Cognitive dissonance is a hell of a drug.


The CCP


I have an easier solution that doesn’t require making a false moral choice.

Give your customers the ability to install their own software or app stores on the hardware that they own and paid for, without requiring a monopolistic walled garden. Of course, companies like Apple would never do this because they are far too greedy.


There is F-Droid but Navalny app is not on it https://search.f-droid.org/?q=Navalny&lang=en Android does also allow installing apps directly from APK. (Crapple separate issue.) Too bad Navalny team did not try to go open-source route.

They also could have just uploaded their database of candidates to Github.


Some of Americas closest allies are authoritarian regimes. Why would anyone expect profit moticated companies like Google or Apple to have higher moral standards than the elected representative US goverment where it operates from itself?


> Why would anyone expect profit moticated companies like Google or Apple to have higher moral standards than the elected representative US goverment where it operates from itself?

Because elected representatives are not moral authorities


Neither are major corporations.


Indeed a good point. Had the US elected representatives had better morals none of this would have ever happened. It would have been pre-empted decades ago. But we have no influence over their morals, only an ability to vote for or against them. Those elected by definition are the best people available. So if they don't have good morals that means the whole society does not have good morals. I suppose the best we can do is to try to have better morals ourselves and hope to positively influence the rest of society to make better moral choices...

All that is hard, and that's why evil like Putin prevails...


> Those elected by definition are the best people available.

If by "available", you mean political candidates, then yes. If you mean of the society in general, then no, quite the opposite, actually.

> So if they don't have good morals that means the whole society does not have good morals.

No, it means two of the worst people in the society (namely, the 'republican' candidate and the 'democratic' candidate) do not have good morals. This a slightly stronger measure than the society's minimum level of morals, but not by very much, and says nothing about average or about particular non-politician cases.


I think this distrust in democracy as a system to elect representative people to legislate and govern is widespread and to a certain degree based on facts, but also deeply worrying. In a way it signifies a failure of democracy.


> In a way it signifies a failure of democracy.

I'd say "demonstrates the", but... yes? Obviously?

Democracy worked well early on because institutions hadn't yet figured out how to exploit it, not because it had any inherent resistance to exploitation; now it's like Merkel-Damgaard hash functions[0]: it was always broken, but now we (and the attackers) know it's broken and are seeing the consequences.

0: eg, MD5, SHA-1


At least those are "allies" and not existential threats.


Where does that stop though? I agree with you, but I don’t see how the basic observe-eval-withdraw loop ever terminates.

Or put from a flip side… Building apps in highly democratic Norway just for Norwegians to use because they’re the best democracy (for example) doesn’t make enough money to feed my family. So why do anything at all?


The fact that you have to draw the line somewhere is not an argument for not drawing a line somewhere.


Indeed. Can you say that the parties involved do not have lines? Everyone has lines, they’re just not always visible.

My point that the observe-eval-withdraw loop is difficult to terminate is not meant to argue we shouldn’t run the loop, but rather how difficult it is to code the withdraw conditions. As I tried to allude to in the second paragraph, you have to balance out the withdraw conditions with the pragmatic need to let the loop get some worthwhile work done.


How about using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a score sheet? 30 Articles there. I doubt there are many countries that score a perfect-30 but is Russia even in double-figures?

I agree, there's some arbitrary hand-wringing to be done to work out where to draw the line, but doing nothing while you're paralysed trying to decide what pencil to use, seems just as bad as going along with the acts in the first place.

https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-huma...


I would believe this is way more complicated, even if set the profit apart.

Arguably having access to technology is important for the regular citizen, even under less democratic countries. There is the privacy angle, and also if you have an Android monopoly it becomes easier for the government to exploit/enforce what they want. You don't help people to understands the benefits of participating on a democracy, or even fighting to have a democracy by withdrawing and hiding what democracies around the world are able to produce and manufacture. Withdrawing the apps as required by government censorship is just one of the battles lost, but not the entire benefit Apple presence has.


All this is certainly expected behavior. If companies don't want to be complicit in these crimes, then they need to remove themselves from keeping remote power over devices that are purportedly sold to end users. Dell doesn't get flack for what Debian chooses to put in their repositories. And when Debian itself gets bullied (eg decss and other video codecs), even-less-exposed organizations can create another repository that coexists with the main one.


This is the kind of moral framework that creates cancel culture. Pulling out from Russia will decrease many Russian's standard of living, but will have zero impact in stopping them from rigging elections. If everyone cuts trade for moral reasons, then there's no incentive for us not to point nukes at each other again.


It would have a negative impact. The Russian government would be very glad to ban platforms like Google even though Google cooperates with them because it would help to control the population even more. Google discloses emails after request? A local social network will monitor every message for them. Youtube removes a video when it's already viral? A local video platform will ban the channel before it gets views.


Yes. Yes. Maybe. Similarly unknown.

In this case we're talking about propping up the existing Russian government who actively interfere in democracy around the world, assassinate political enemies and draw immense influence from the fear it spreads around it. Yeah, sure, why wouldn't we want to keep that going as long as we can?

Because it will end one day. Putin isn't Russia's greatest love machine. When that day comes, all the instability you'd blame on me and my ideals will rain down on us all anyway.

If you want to reduce my reasoned moral objections to "cancel culture", I'm sure you're somebody's hero, but yes, I think we should demand better from the companies we fund. Russia's instability is inevitable, either way.


We only have a limited bandwidth for action. While I don't think that everyone should be hyper-utilitarian and focus all of our effort on distributing antimalarial medication like Bill Gates is doing, you need to have some threshold of ROI if you want a proposal to be taken seriously. For example, the US government values a human life at $10 million dollars.


> This is the kind of moral framework that creates cancel culture.

Cancel culture means a lot of different things to different people. You might want to clarify your interpretation here.

> Russia will decrease many Russian's standard of living, but will have zero impact in stopping them from rigging elections.

Wow, this was a mental leap. So by giving into already established corruption of government officials in Russia, you're making it better for Russians standard of living by further having a corrupt government? I don't know how you reached this conclusion. There are thousands of businesses in Russia (and probably hundreds that are large and US centric), but only one government. One company pulling out is hardly going to make a dent in providing jobs in a country as large as Russia.

> If everyone cuts trade for moral reasons, then there's no incentive for us not to point nukes at each other again.

So, you're implying that if we didn't have global trade then nations would fight more? I don't think I've ever heard this interpretation before - care to elaborate?


> If everyone cuts trade for moral reasons, then there's no incentive for us not to point nukes at each other again.

I don't agree with OP but this is actually a pretty common talking point around the benefits of globalization. If you depend on some other country for some essential resource (e.g. natural gas) you're less likely to want to go to war with them because it would be quite inconvenient to suddenly have half your population freezing in the winter.

Here's some research from Cato that shows that trade interdependence generally promotes peace https://www.cato.org/research-briefs-economic-policy/does-tr...


Bullshit. The Russians won’t be able to stop using iPhones, and with Apple out of Russia, the OS can be free from Russian influence.


If Apple didn't bend the knee, Russia could block its banks doing business with Apple, as well as simply blocking their networks.

Russia has a lot of power to flex against its own citizens.


And leave its citizens with what alternative? The smartphone OS duopoly is stronger than one authoritarian little shit.


"If I don't become complicit, somebody else will be. Might as well do it myself."


I haven't decided if I agree with the comment you're replying to, but this isn't a fair summary of it. Either engage with it or don't but posting a caricature doesn't exactly raise the level of debate around here.


Citing "cancel culture" as the final boss doesn't start us in a place of elevation.


Good point. I glazed over that. But still...


Pulling out of Russia might have zero immediate impact on stopping Putin rigging elections which are rigged anyway, but it would definitely reduce his and his mafia's wealth and power, thereby helping bring about the inevitable regime change sooner, and in a less turbulent way.


Casually suggesting that Apple should pull out from all authoritarian countries is both funny and naive


That is what I think, but that's not the point of my post.

The part you're reading around is the people here defending Apple and Google's behaviour, because they're just doing what's right for their employees.

Doing what's right for Apple and Google's employees is not setting up offices in front of Russia's loaded gun, which we've only known about for… hundreds of years. Apple and Google put their employees at risk. They don't get points for doing more bad things to further delay that risk (and feed the machine that made that enables the risk).

My naïveté is certainly worth considering, but we're all so wilfully blind to atrocities. It was one thing to let another country beat up its citizens and attempt to sanction them, but now we're each personally entangling our lives with companies that aid and abet. We have to demand better.


Im just saying you cannot just pull out and work remote in a country wide situation and with the scale of Apple. There will be much more effects, maybe I’m paranoid in that sense.


I'm also naive, and regardless, fully in agreement with you.


The benchmark here is employee threats. China does not threaten Apple employees located in their country, nor do many other authoritarian countries. I don't think it's unreasonable to pull out of countries that present clear and present dangers to your workforce.


Apple would pull out of China if their sales dropped 50% because they wouldn't.


Cutting all possible connections with China is counter-productive to de-escalating tensions with them and integrating them into a rules-based system.


[flagged]


The simple part is not being able to wash away actions when they choose to be in the situation, and do worse elsewhere. Google, Apple, Facebook, etc are not in this for the moral benefit of mankind, they're here to make a buck.

That much is simple.

Actually putting things right is more complex, but almost complete inaction isn't good enough.


Keeping employees out of a country due to hostile government behavior is actually the simpler world.


If you're starting from zero, sure. Moving all employees in Russia to another country (and/or firing/replacing them) sounds like quite a major headache to me.


Sure on a 6-12 month timescale. Beyond that it seems much easier. This is true of any infrastructure decision, they generally require work in the short term but are taken on to relieve pain and facilitate the ongoing future.


I definitely hope that this is how Google and Apple respond to Russia's actions here. But I can't claim to know the difficulties they would face on a 12+mo timescale.


Here is an article that mentions the threat of jailing employees: https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2021/09/17/apple-google-delet...

It's all about Navalny's tactic of 'smart voting', where they are picking candidates from parties other than the 'United Russia' party of Putin, in an attempt to bring in members of parliament who would not be in exact alignment with the politics of Putin. These candidates are often not even in open opposition to Putin, and that is currently the worst opposition and nightmare of the Russian government...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_Voting


Pull out of the countries then.

Participating in dictatorship is barely better than refusing to do so if that dictatorship will falsely imprison your employees.


> Pull out of the countries then.

Then why Apple hasn't pulled out of China? Like 2 decades ago? China was always a brutal dictatorship. Why would they pull out of anything? These company profit from bloody dictatorships, like the rest of the western economy. But somehow when it's about Russia it's a problem? The hypocrisy in the west must stop. The west and it's industry never stood for freedom abroad since it decided that business is more important than democracy in the rest of the world, basically when the west accepted China in the WTO.

> Participating in dictatorship is barely better than refusing to do so if that dictatorship will falsely imprison your employees.

Tell that to Apple in China, a country that is literally using slave workforce from concentration camps. But Russia is where people here start being outraged?


> But Russia is where people here start being outraged?

It's entirely possible that the same people are _also_ outraged by Apple's business in China.


Indeed, it's the exact same issue, and the behavior of these companies is as cynical and wrong in Russia, China, and any and all other places where they act this way.


I agree. And if they weren't, I get tired of arguments on the merits of argument "B" that states because "A" is wrong, you cannot point out that "B" is wrong too.

The danger is the mentality that we should not solve any single problem unless we can solve all of the problems. Pointing out the hypocrisy to invalidate the argument can lead to inaction.


>The west and it's industry never stood for freedom abroad since it decided that business is more important than democracy in the rest of the world, basically when the west accepted China in the WTO.

I'd say it was long long before that. The US replaced a democratically elected leader with a dictatorship at the behest of a fruit company to give one example and it has had plenty such business influenced examples preceding and following it.

>Tell that to Apple in China

It ain't quite done to separatists but is it surprising? It's ok even when a lot less money is involved and it happens locally.: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28286853


Good point, good point. The recent NordStream deal was disgusting. Unfortunately Western morals are only marginally better than those of the tyrants that Western politicians sell out to.

I suppose whoever cares enough for Western morals to improve needs to try to sell out a little less themselves.


In fairness, people have been asking Apple and Google (plus many other western businesses) to pull out of China for a long time. The point your making isn't something new nor overlooked.


But Google did pull out of China, did that improve the situation in China? Meanwhile Apple makes billions in China and barely anyone says anything. If you're Google you're looking at that like a raw deal.


Yes Google pulling out instead of censoring search results and spying on users for the government made things better for people in China.

Apple scan your photos. Tells you what apps you are allowed to install and charges you extra for all of that. Whatever type of person is left on the platform is more likely to be going through stockholm syndrome and wouldn't be in a situation to make a political statement.


Every cloud service that holds your photos in a non-e2ee way (read: Google, FB, et. Al.) scans your photos. They’re all afraid of the .gov accusing them of holding illegal content.


This again.

None of them do that on my device, that I paid with my money. No cloud service wastes my CPU cycles and batteries to report me to authorities.

It's apples to oranges, sorry for the pun. Please stop comparing what Google, MS and Dropbox do to what Apple planned to do.


I can relate to that, for sure. I also dislike the idea of having my personal property used to spy on me. The battery impact, the potentially degraded performance, and the overall creep factor. I dislike it all.

However, that was not what the parent stated. They said "Apple scan your photos.", to which I replied everyone else does as well. Because they do.


> Yes Google pulling out instead of censoring search results and spying on users for the government made things better for people in China.

Did it? In what way? Does Google not censor results in the United States at the behest of the US government? Does it not spy on users at the best of the US govt?


Does Google censor in the US the same way they were required to in China? No.

Google censor based on court rulings, user requests from Europe, national security certicates. Google follows the law where it operates which is why they stopped in China.

Google doesn't spy on behalf the government. The government monitors all traffic via under the sea cables and at all major backbone datacenters. The cellphone location beacon you carry around does.


Actually, no.

Page and Brinn started Google with the intention to improve the world. They weren't short of money, so not being part of what China was doing was productive, even if it did not make cash.

I know plenty of people that are driven by things other than money, and its not a raw deal at all.

Of course, after that, Google went Evil Incarnate so now there is no logic for them to be out of China.


Google didn't entirely pull out of China, they just terminated their product lines that were unsuccessful in China.

I was also just posting a fact that people have made the same calls for China, not my personal opinion about whether we "should" discontinue services with China. On that last point, I'm honestly undecided.


That's just an outright lie. The product they pulled was search. According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_China it had a 36% search market share.


[flagged]


Google pulled out in 2010, of course their market share declined.


They did still redirect people to the Hong Kong search though. They didn't entirely pull out from China, just discontinued the Chinese search engine. And they did that because Google.cn was largely a broken service with a significant number of results being blocked by the Great Firewall. That wiki literally states all of this!

Google Search was never really what one would normally describe as a "successful product" in China even when it was at it's hight in terms of market share. It sucked and given Google still operate in China, have development offices there and actively promote Android (amongst other services), it's a real stretch to say that Google discontinued Search in China over ethical reasons. Search was just, like many of their services in the west that get canned, just not proving successful enough to be worth the hassle supporting. Which was my original point.

edit: Christ on a bike. I'm getting downvoted when even the citations backs up my statement. Googlers must have logged on for their morning dose of internet outrage.


It’s not about whether it improves the situation in China or not. It’s about having consistent principles as a company.


I know you are the pro-Russia person, but the pro-China people say the same things when folks like me consistently criticize large companies and celebrities for the same reason.

Please assume good faith here.


I posted a sibling comment to your about Russia and the general point. I'll try not to repeat myself but China is very close to my heart as my wife is Chinese and therefore so is half of my family.

My wife's father's family were brutally oppressed by the Communists. To this day he gets upset, and I've seen him burst into tears when talking about what they did to some of his relatives in the 50s and 60s. This is the toughest guy I've ever known.

None of my Chinese relatives, no matter how deeply they oppose the government, thinks Apple should not sell them iPhones because of anything the CCP does. When Apple pulled VPN apps in China they blamed the CCP, not Apple. None of them think refusing to trade with china is in Chinese citizens best interests. This is why I think I can gauge how Russians probably think about this though I have no experience of Russia.


Good anecdata. I am from Russia, and was personally oppressed (fortunately, only by restriction of freedoms) for the exact thing the app in question was trying to achieve (e.g. getting someone else win elections).

I'd rather Apple and Google pulled from Russia precisely because people there do not feel responsible for the acts of their government, which makes them (and now also Google and Apple) complicit.

In my opinion the people in question are simply choosing the bad strategy in prisoner's dilemma.


That's fair, and I appreciate the counterpoint. There is a mess of conflicting issues in something like this.


> None of them think refusing to trade with china is in Chinese citizens best interests.

Well, then is it a matter of principle for western democracies or not? Meanwhile, the west is financing the CCP.


There are definitely principles at stake. We should not work with or support oppressive activities themselves. Western countries selling gear to be used in the great firewall is a disgrace. Selling software tools to be used in censorship is also despicable. We should check supply chains to exclude forced labour to the best of our ability.


>Tell that to Apple in China, a country that is literally using slave workforce from concentration camps.

Source?



> Federal statute 19 U.S.C. 1307 prohibits the importation of merchandise produced, wholly or in part, by convict labor, forced labor, and/or indentured labor under penal sanctions, including forced or indentured child labor

I'm confused how this is distinguished from the conditions of domestic textile workers in the US?


Doesn't seem to take much Googling to find some reputable looking sources...

> China uses Uyghur forced labour to make solar panels, says report

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-57124636

> There’s a good chance your cotton T-shirt was made with Uyghur slave labor... Much of the world’s cotton comes from the Uyghur region, where the Chinese government is ethnically cleansing its Muslim minority. Fashion conglomerates know this

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/apr/09/cotton...

> Despite having initially denied the existence of camps, authorities later described them as “vocational training” centres. Nevertheless, satellite imagery indicated that an increasing number of camps continued to be built throughout the year.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/location/asia-and-the-pacific/eas...

EDIT: I was confused by the downvotes given that the above aren't exactly fringe outlets. I imagine people may be conflating the mention of "Apple" and "slave labour" in the parent comment. I'm not supporting the idea that Apple are using slave labour in China - I have no idea on that front. (And if you reread the parent it's not necessarily what they were suggesting either.) The sources above merely seem to show that there are reports in general of forced labour and forced detention in China. That said... this was the result of quick first-page Googling and I'm admittedly pretty ignorant on this topic.


Even Navalny and his supporters are not calling for foreign companies to all pull out of Russia. What makes you think you know better what is good for the Russian people and the opposition groups than Russians and the opposition groups themselves?

How many of Russia's Apple employees think Apple is "participating in dictatorship" by employing them? How many Russian citizens, including the political opposition, do you think blame Apple or Google for participating in dictatorship by selling them phones and providing them with services? Maybe a few take such an extreme view, but it certainly doesn't seem to be a common attitude for Russian opponents of Putin.


The actual problem is not that Apple removed the app. It's that there is no other way to install the app if Apple removes it from their store.


I disagree. I think the problem is that Apple is choosing to support dictators by removing this app.

The ability to side load apps is a smokescreen because only 1% of people would use any alternate means.

So even if they had alternate app stores, Apple removing it from the main App Store is egregious.

Similar to how it’s terrible that Google removed it even though it’s available in alternate stores.

(Of course Apple should allow sideloading and other app stores)


> I disagree. I think the problem is that Apple is choosing to support dictators by removing this app.

Is he still a dictator if he would win contested elections?

The polling on Putin in Russia is pretty darn clearcut, don't see how you can look at the numbers I do and conclude anything other than that Putin has the tacit support of most of the population.


Take a look at the Soviet bloc elections. They won by big margins through voter suppression and much more.

Castro was elected for what, 50 years. He was definitely a dictator.

There was (is) voter suppression in the US and the civil rights movement directly worked to overturn polls that showed that only white governors and mayors in the south will win.

I don’t think Russian polls can be interpreted fairly to mean Putin has the tacit support of most of the population. Putin’s opponents are jailed and they are billionaires. If I get a poll, I’m not going to answer honestly due to fear.


I can't imagine how such an app could be in any way complicated. Why is it not just a website?



Thanks. Honestly though I'm surprised, I would have thought blocking specific HTTPS websites wasn't so easy.


HTTPS reveals domain, only subdomain/folder is encrypted.


The domain is still typically passed unencrypted with HTTPS


Why wouldn’t they just force other app stores to pull the app too?


Such as F-Droid?


Any reason they can’t just block the site? Is F-Droid a good option for this kind of mobile app?

I guess you can say they wind up playing whack-a-mole with new App Store and websites but that doesn’t seem ideal either. Russians can plant something too.

And Google removed it too. So are users downloading it now from 3rd-party app stores?


Longer Streisand effect


The problem is that everyone is now talking about the app and the prisoner. Good luck putting the genie back in the bottle.


Are you trying to appeal, that because majority of people believe something contrary to the opinion of the parent comment, he is wrong?

What makes you think they know better, than him?


> How many of Russia's Apple employees

I don't think there is any: Apple has never operated in Russia directly and I doubt there are employees working remotely from Russia.


Apple likely does not have engineers, designers, or execs in Russia… but they have Russian Apple stores etc. whom are all Apple employees.


> What makes you think you know better what is good for the Russian people and the opposition groups than Russians and the opposition groups themselves?

Because if regime's economy collapses, the regime will collapse sooner.


Collapsing economies simply make autocrats double down even harder on autocracy. North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Zimbabwe. There are numerous examples of this. It simply multiplies the misery.


Why is this even relevant? You always have to keep heads of your enemies down. That's basic common sense.

Dictatorships are the enemies of the Free World. Or, do you think they are friends, perhaps?

They are your enemies, and you keep their economies ruined.


-1 Point for faiure to distinguish between the mobsters in charge and general population

-1 point for dillusional idea that cuba is an enemy or a threat to the us or anyone fir that matter

-1 point fir lack of self-reflection on how free we are becoming

-1 point for cruelty


I am not cruel, I am a follower of strong humanist beliefs. Life in shit is worse than death, way worse. I will at least give people a choice of two. If you force people to live in shit, just so they can live, you are cruel.

I am very reflective. I see the West turning into a serial facilitator of rogue, and fascist regimes for some "special relationships." If they deserve fire for that, I think they really should. It's been 20 years since 9/11, and USA is still sucking up to the Saudi Regime for really nothing of benefit — this is what I will call a real lack of self-reflection.

Cuba is not a threat, but it very much will be if you leave its neck out of your hands for a second. The Cuban state is the biggest threat to Cuban people. Thank them for good healthcare, but then smack them good for near starving their people despite Cuba being chock full of agricultural land for a country of 10M, inventing silly excuses for it, and jailing anybody pointing a finger on that.

I see the mob in charge, very much see. I personally knew people who lost all their livelihood to having their business robbed, and seized. The general population don't want you, the West to keep feeding Putin's bottomless mouth. They are not idiots. They see every gram of food the West gives the regime, the regime uses to grow bigger, and stronger, and then bite, and rob them even more.


Actually that's a reasonable point, sure. My counter is that it should be proportionate. North Korea? Absolutely, they're the absolute bottom of the barrel. Full economic sanctions are reasonable, I think we both agree.

China and Russia are not like North Korea though. Citizens generally enjoy a considerable degree of freedom of movement, economic freedoms and even rights to travel abroad. To the extent that these rights are curtailed or refused we should apply increasing degrees of pressure. In fact I think we don't apply enough pressure, particularly to China. There's a lot more we could do. What we should do is emphasise that crimes such as the oppression of the Uighurs should have consequences, and we're not doing that enough right now.

I'm particularly concerned about China's application to join the Asia-Pacific trade pact, the CPTPP. The association was founded by the US in order to form a united front against China, but the US pulled out in 2017. So we now face a real possibility a trade pact intended to contain China will end up helping China contain US economic influence in the region. Nice one.

Absolute bans and boycotts are simply not appropriate though, they would disproportionately hurt ordinary Chinese, including those under the worst oppression and would help China promote a nationalistic us versus them attitude. It would also remove any ability to apply increasing pressure to any further oppressive moves because we'd have no pressure left to apply. So I fully agree with the principle, you're quit right these regimes are our enemy, but not the all-or-nothing implementation.


Regime collapse doesn't mean something better will replace it. Russia collapsed end of the 80s, but what replaced it leaves a lot to be desired...


Well, yes. But for Russia's former satellite states things definitely improved.


I think you cherry-picked here. You are thinking about the Baltics and forgetting about places like Uzbekistan (now broke) and Kazakhstan (rich but authoritarian). And even if you say these are former republics rather than satellites, think of the mess that is Serbia.

The fall of the USSR may have been overall a good thing and even inevitable, as with any huge disruption it was not an unequivocal good thing for every single person.


> I think you cherry-picked here. You are thinking about the Baltics and forgetting about places like Uzbekistan

The parent did not cherry pick, they didn't go far enough. It was overwhelmingly positive regardless of Kazakhstan or Serbia.

East Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Czechia, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria.


Estonia represses 7% of its population.


It represses it so much, that the repressed ethnic Russians gang up, and go lighting up the Russian embassy from time to time, as a gratitude for Mr. Putin's attempts at "liberating" them.


We are probably talking about two different 7% of people.

Your comment is also beside the point. Russia is likely no better than Estonia. It does not mean Estonia is not worse than other EU countries, including former members of USSR.


East Germany, Baltics, Poland, Romania and many others.


> huge disruption it was not an unequivocal good thing for every single person.

I think even in the Central Asian North Korea — Uzbekistan, a person now lives more freely, and richer than the wealthiest USSR citizens did.


Have you ever googled, bro?

>> After the collapse of the USSR, economic reforms were not fully implemented in Uzbekistan, conditions for the development of medium and small businesses were not created, corruption took root, and unemployment increased. Many wonder: if it is better now than in the past, why have about two to five million Uzbek citizens left their country in search of work?

via bbs.com (!!!) https://www.bbc.com/russian/international/2014/10/141015_uzb...

.. and where do you think they migrated to, from their country that is on its way to Middle Ages? To Putin's dark regime's Russia, nowhere else, working there as construction and road workers etc.

You've got a good chance to compare your reality with real reality, my friend.


> Have you ever googled, bro?

I didn't, but I know this better than you.

Uzbekistan, a North Korea redux it be, but you can

1. now get a coca cola there.

2. food is on the shelves, including meat

3. buy property, instead of being shot for doing so

4. leave the country, back in USSR there were no option to go work anywhere as a construction worker to earn real cash.

If you really like your USSR wonderland communist paradise, please go. The immigration route to North Korea, or Cuba is open for you.


All those Uzbeks shot for buying property should rise from the grave and haunt you for being such a troll. Must be millions of them. You should be very afraid. But maybe a Coca Cola mist will keep them at bay? Maybe if you chant Adam Smith's name while you do it?


In post cold war Europe it was mostly the case. Russia is a lot less of a threat to the world, and its own citizens. I for one could freely leave Russia, which would require non-trivial effort in USSR.


And it did, because the West left half way, and never backed Yelzin at finally dismantling the system.

It was critical.

And after he had his second stroke, he was a walking vegetable basically, and the opportunity was lost.

You are very demoralised.


And then we likely have a pure dictatorship with the worlds second biggest nuclear arsenal and thousands of Russians will likely die from things like starvation and being killed by the new regime (or the old while it dies). No-one wins by killing off a regime. That is "let's bomb this country into democracy" thinking.


It is a pure dictatorship for a while now.


I come from a 3rd world dictatorship country.

I don't really think that'd help. It'd further isolate those countries, making them more and more authoritarian and less and less educated.

Google pulling out of any country for help democracy either.


Interested in your thoughts on what would help? From your point of view?


I'll try my best, but obviously these are just my thoughts and a lot of other people don't necessarily agree with me.

I think all authoritarian governments rely on a chunk of their population to stay in power. This population can be very small, but sufficient.

In order to maintain their popularity they rely on:

1. Lack of education

2. Strong propaganda

3. Poverty

4. Social welfare

5. Religion & ideology

6. Fear of enemy

Within their target demographics.

So, they will end up with chunks of population who are uneducated, poor, strongly reliant on government welfare that are actually thankful for the government for their social welfare and cultural/religious alignment.

The pro-democracy people are usually middle class citizens. How do you fight uneducated, religiously/culturally motivated people with tame middle class citizens? It's not doable. That's why Taliban takes control of Afghanistan.

The only thing that I've seen work is this:

1. You try to keep communications alive with population. Google leaving a country? There couldn't be anything worse.

2. You incentivize government/regimes to stay as open as possible.

3. You wait decades for paradigm shifts within populations.

As for #1, let me give you an example. ~25 years ago I was 7. I lived in Iran. There was no internet. TV & Radio are government controlled and the country was too poor for people to travel abroad.

The _only_ thing that kept us connected to the outside world was... soccer.

Iranian state TV would broadcast a few soccer games a week (not live). For a massive chunk of the population, the only way to see there are _other_ type of people, not name Ali, Hussain, Muhammed, etc, and instead named Alessandro, Paolo, David, whatever, was soccer. Something simple like this can really keep the mind open. Allows you to realize there are other ways.

Fast forward a few years, a "reform" government was in place. The regime was relatively incentivized to talk to the US. Thus, they allowed Internet. The reform government allowed music and film to flourish again. As a result of economic growth a lot of Iranians were traveling abroad (from Turkey and Dubai to all over Europe) and as a result the middle class got more and more "western".

Fast forward to Donald Trump leaving the JCPOA, putting a "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran.

The economy went to shit (it's really a humanitarian crisis now). The government, scared of riots, locked everything down. All European brands/companies have left the country and the government is pushing to close down internet altogether.

A decade ago Iranians were pushing for democracy (Green Movement). Now, their only concern is survival. There is no hope anymore. The population is getting poorer and poorer, less and less educated.

So my question after this story is, do you think Google leaving Russia will end up helping Russians get more educated, more wealthy, more connected to the free world?

Or would it push them to the direction of poverty, isolation and disconnect?

Iran 10 years ago (before maximum pressure campaign by the republicans) was on the path to be something like Turkey. Not totally free, but somewhat OK ish country. Now it's on the path to be another North Korea (if this direction continues for another 15-20 years)

Sorry this wasn't a well written, well thought piece. It was an anecdotal dump of thoughts, but hopefully I managed to make a point.


Very interesting writeup.

Now I'm left wondering, what do we imagine google to be in russia when we say google should pull out?

Do we imagine that all of google will be blocked because they would no longer respond to russia's requests? Or maybe because act of pulling out is a political statement in on itself?

If google was the only connection to the western world, surely that would be different than if google was just one of many connections to the western world?

Maybe it's a slippery slope.

A bit unrelated, it seems like free satellite internet independent from state using smuggled phones could help. Maybe it's optimistic and naive, but I imagine it would be similar to getting illegal music and sharing that with your friends.


When the parent is asking for Google to leave Russia, that implies any given company in the same situation should, which would certainly be in the direction of limiting country's communication with the outside world and create more hostility between the nations.


Your assessment may be true for Iran, but I don't think they can be applied to Russia:

1. Russia has very high education -- it's ranked 3rd in the world in terms of people who attend college/university.

2. Russia is a 2nd-world country, so they don't suffer from extreme poverty.

3. Russians aren't very religious.

If Google leaves there wouldn't be much difference in terms of people accessing information on the web because most Russians already use Yandex for web search anyway.

But more importantly, the Russian government is already pushing to replaced foreign tech with Russian alternatives. They're pressuring Russian companies to switch to using local internet services, software, and they've supposedly developed the ability to "disconnect" Russian internet from the rest of open internet. So, if/when they're ready, they will do so. So, I think the point I'm trying to make is that the internet as a platform for information isn't some sort of catalyst for democracy. Russian people are smart and educated, but the authoritarian regime is as strong as it has ever been.


If google leaves and is replaced by a local alternative, Mr Putin's people will be directly monitoring and actively taking action in response to the things communicated there. Which leaves the population in a worse place than before.


> So my question after this story is, do you think Google leaving Russia will end up helping Russians get more educated, more wealthy, more connected to the free world?

Maybe, if the alternative is them cooperating with the dictator government for more effective surveillance and enforcement? Google from 2021 isn't Google from 2006.

I mean, 20 years ago I'd 100% agree with you, but modern-day big tech is... yikes! The only thing it'll do is prevent the emergence and spread of more open (and certainly harder to track) tech.


So the choices are:

1. A western company that has to abide to Russian's unlawful and immoral requests time to time

2. A Russian company, which either belongs to the state, or is fully controlled by the state, or has absolutely 0 power against the state.

You choose 2?

Another way of looking at it for me is this:

If, one day, Iran and US governments allow Google to operate in Iran, that'd be a step forward. It's true that Google _may_ have to bow to Iran's regime from time to time. It's also true that Google may _want_ to help Iran's regime from time to time (due to whatever interest) but their interest is not 100% aligned. It's only sometimes aligned.

That, next to all the benefits of Google operating in Iran, would definitely make me choose 1.


Both of these would only serve to amplify the power of Iranian government many fold. And there is no "maybe" and no "time to time". We're talking the de-facto tools of surveillance capitalism here. When their interests aren't aligned with Iranian government, they'd be aligned with American government, and the latter is what brought upon you the former in the first place.

To be honest, I think that tech has no solution for you, and that you're only looking there because tech's what you're good at.


> Both of these would only serve to amplify the power of Iranian government many fold. And there is no "maybe" and no "time to time". We're talking the de-facto tools of surveillance capitalism here.

Your argument is definitely compelling - I share the distrust in the way things are going with “surveillance capitalism” as you call it, but, is there a risk of being too binary here?

For example, could it be possible that options 1 and 2 do not necessarily have the same negative outcome. Could an outside tech company (not state controlled) even if it’s under control of a western government that’s continually pushing for more control (and I speak as a Brit where we’re fighting our own battles on this front) still be better at helping to spread freedom of communication and ideas even marginally than the fully state controlled alternative?

It’s all relative I think. No country is perfect, no government is perfect. As a Brit my government fucks up continuously. The American government fucks up continuously. The Australian government fucks up continuously (looking at the recent legislation that we’ve talked about on HN). We’re all basket cases. But, the world is imperfect. Is it possible that even with our flaws, a more open and democratic (relatively) country’s private sector companies can still have a positive impact by having a presence in less open/democratic countries? Even if that means having to acquiesce occasionally?

I’m not sure. But I’m open to the possibility and I think the parent makes a strong case from their description of their own experience with Iran.


> I’m not sure. But I’m open to the possibility and I think the parent makes a strong case from their description of their own experience with Iran.

Of course! I'm just observing how tech is being applied in my part of the world and assuming the same thing will happen in theirs. There's a good possibility that my hypothesis is incomplete or just plain wrong. I thought it's worth sharing nevertheless.


I live in the US now and I'm no stranger to how these companies surveil you. My point is, Google has more incentives and interests than just keeping the powers to be in Iran.

But a state-owned company would only and only have 1 master, which would be the state. And it wouldn't bring any of the benefits of Google with it. It would surveil you more aggressively and it would be more devoted to the state.


> There's a good possibility that my hypothesis is incomplete or just plain wrong. I thought it's worth sharing nevertheless.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a good chance my hypothesis is incomplete too! :)


> Both of these would only serve to amplify the power of Iranian government many fold. And there is no "maybe" and no "time to time". We're talking the de-facto tools of surveillance capitalism here.

I'm not so sure they would be equal. Example:

Iranians have been using Telegram/Whatsapp/Viber for many years. And every few years the government tries to block them and push their own "national" app. Every time they try to push this agenda, there is a massive massive backlash, because noone trusts the government.

Maybe Iranian government would have enough leverage against Facebook/Google to ask them to do something (like removing Navalny app) at key moments (or push to surveil some key people at certain moments) but they definitely wont have access to every single person's database like a "national" app would. That's a very big difference.


> Sorry this wasn't a well written, well thought piece.

Are you kidding? This is one of most eloquent and thoughtful responses I’ve ever had to a question on HN.

Thanks for taking the time to put your thoughts down. Everything you’ve said makes total sense, and it totally balances out my original gut reaction which was “fuck Apple and Google, just pull out of the country rather than giving in to these sorts of demands”.

Having followed Navalny’s story, I felt outraged that these two massive tech companies can’t even keep his political support app online to just give a modicum of support to the guy single-handedly (almost) taking on Putin.

What I didn’t consider, and what’s made much more clear to me by your brilliant response, is that it may only be due to the proliferation of “generally open” (relatively) tech companies like Apple and Google in Russia that has allowed Navalny to build momentum and support there in the first place.

The benefits of better communication and easier proliferation of ideas that are brought by the internet and the tech companies that enable this “communication and idea sharing infrastructure” can be easily overlooked.

If you have a blog or somewhere to publish your ideas, you should totally publish this comment as an article as it’s insightful and brilliant.

> Fast forward to Donald Trump leaving the JCPOA, putting a "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran.

> The economy went to shit (it's really a humanitarian crisis now). The government, scared of riots, locked everything down…

At the risk of digging in a bit politically here… I’m curious if Donald Trump’s actions here were a crucial tipping point in your view or if there were other factors too that were obviously at play? As much as I’d love to blame it all on Trump I’m curious if he exacerbated things that were already slipping, or if he (and the Republicans) precipitated it…


> At the risk of digging in a bit politically here… I’m curious if Donald Trump’s actions here were a crucial tipping point in your view or if there were other factors too that were obviously at play? As much as I’d love to blame it all on Trump I’m curious if he exacerbated things that were already slipping, or if he (and the Republicans) precipitated it…

There were obviously a lot of factors in play here. However, pulling out of JCPOA, against the will of all European partners and many US companies with no alternative reason was a crime. It was only to deny Obama/Democrats a win (over a good deal with Iran) which has brought a decade of misery upon Iranian people and risk of more wars among people in the region.

But the JCPOA was a massive, massive step forward and had no downsides for any of the countries involved. But leaving JCPOA was a step even more backwards and it may have pushed Iran over the edge. It may have been a point of no return for Iranian regime.

P.S: Thank you for the kind words.


I’ve just been reading up on the JCPOA [0] as I have to admit my total ignorance on this topic.

It does seem like you’re right to be emphasising the significance of the US pulling out of this. (And that’s probably an understatement).

Thanks for your level headed elaboration of your thinking on this - I’ve learnt a great deal from this thread and shifted a few perspectives!

This is why I come to HN.

[0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_Comprehensive_Plan_of_...


That seems to achieve nothing in practice. If Google and Apple leave Russia, then whatever replaces them will probably be even more compliant with the government.

Of course, working in the country means paying tax dollars and "participating in the dictatorship" in that way, but that's not linked to app store restrictions. It's not as if they needed to get ordered to remove that app to realize they were working in a dictatorship, they knew it beforehand.


I am sorry, but that's bullshit. Do you see Russia threatening Microsoft for not banning certain apps from Windows? No, because they can't. Apple and Google have build their ecosystem in such a way that they have full power over these decisions, and now they are forced to use that power.

Edit: Google has a slight advantage here because people can still sideload apps on Android, but that's not possible on iOS.


This, right here. Centralization is the danger. In whatever form.

Even the web with single points of failure is prone to this.


The real money comment in this entire thread. Corporate incentive structures are messed up. Why does a corporation sacrifice principles and values over money. If they really care about the people they serve they would consider this seriously.

One of the first things I was told when I joined FB was that they were almost going to be decentralized and a non-profit. Who knows how much of that history is rewritten.

I mention it because there are echoes that these big tech companies could have been non-profits. Google making information accessible. Apple making computers that enable people to learn and create. Facebook connecting people and creating community. Amazon to empower small businesses.

They probably wouldn’t have succeeded as much as they did now. But they certainly deviated away from their original mission, or rather they have a history of compromising them for profit. We should be trying to create a world where they would have succeeded as a non-profit.

Our incentive structures for corporations are so screwed up. But this is so complex. Probably the first step is improving the bottom line for everyone in the country, and then we can start tearing apart the incentive structures for businesses.


> Apple and Google have build their ecosystem in such a way that they have full power over these decisions, and now they are forced to use that power.

They made choices that put them in this situation, sure. But how does the fact that it's their fault change their situation now? Leaving still achieves nothing, and they certainly won't change their business model for that reason alone, so the logical choice is to stay and obey.

If they left, I doubt they would be replaced by a Microsoft-like that has less control over their devices. More likely, the void would be filled by government-compliant companies.


I would be cautious about that kind of statement.

Moving out of their country is just what dictatorships want. To do their thing undisturbed.


Nobody is going to do that so long as there is financial reason to not.

Which is not to say Google and Apple don't care about their employees, clearly this article suggests otherwise.

It's just not true that pulling out is a viable or even straight forward option.

You could also make an argument for US government placing pressure on these companies to keep a presence in Russia so they (the US government) can have some kind of foothold to push soft pressure


No company will pull out because there is money in these countries - what happens there in politics, social sphere doesn't actually matter as long their business isn't in any direct danger. And if there's some threat, their "values and moral spine" bends with ease; big corps have tools and means to do damage control if situation requires.


As a Russian, I agree. Boycott Putin, Lukashenko and other bloody murderers. Otherwise it's just talk.

You can post whataboutism under this comment (e.g. "what about China?", "US is bloody too", "US always supports dictators" and other useful idiot[0] stuff).

0 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Useful_idiot


I'm no fan of political power in Russia (my home country) or anywhere else in the world, but come on with this double-standard bullshit.

Every country does exactly the same thing. Just look at how much suppression of "alternative voices" happens in real time all over the world and what apps were banned, accounts closed etc. Jan 6 was painted as bad as 9/11, ffs. It may be staged differently so it's not the "government" directly steps onto your 1st amendment, but "private biz", but who are we kidding. When there are forbidden topics and forbidden people, it's the outcomes that matter, not specific mechanisms.

Google and Apple are collaborating with all governments, and all governments are abusing their powers in someone's own interests, so calling for "pulling out" of a "misbehaving country" makes as much sense as asking for rain to drop upwards.

I'd better explore how people could reduce their dependence on any giant corporation, regardless of it being a business or a government, from West or East.


> Every country does exactly the same thing.

They don't though. Sure, there is some level of corruption and media bias in every country but few countries have dictatorships which will threaten imprisonment (or worse) of anyone who speaks out against the current government.

However I do agree with your secondary point that the solution isn't to create a tech vacuum, it's to create technology that can't be controlled by a single authority.


So in the US there was a big kerfuffle about how Russia paid for some Facebook ads and interfered with the election. Russia bad.

Here you have an app that literally tells people how to vote. This is pro-US, so again, Russia bad.


This is a Russian app, overtly tied to a Russian political figure, explaining to Russian citizens how to act in their Russian election. You don't see any difference with Russia using fake US accounts to tell US citizens how to act in the US election?


> Donald J. Trump and 18 of his associates had at least 140 contacts with Russian nationals and WikiLeaks, or their intermediaries, during the 2016 campaign and presidential transition.

Sorry, wrong person, 1 sec...

Navalny:

1) Studied in Yale 2) Supported by all western media as a hero at any time 3) Received large amounts in Bitcoin 4) Maria Pevchikh (MI6)

etc.

Looks like very Rissian polititian, and very pro-russian activity.


By the same argument: Facebook is a US company, so Russia is innocent.

Just because someone uses a front to hide behind does not mean they are not behind the activity.


Now you are moving the discussion into Which country have actual free people though. Sure a dictatorship is worse than a "free" country where decades of propaganda has set the tone so people think they are free while they do what the government wants them to but are they really that much better off? That people chant USA! USA! USA! while doing something doesn't mean they are free. They are more free but way more indoctrinated. I'm not sure that is better than how it is in Russia. It does feel better, sure, but it doesn't give any less media bias at all. If anything US media is more biased than Russian or at least as bad - all done without obvious threats. That's worse in my opinion, way worse.


> Now you are moving the discussion into Which country have actual free people though.

I'm not moving the topic, that is an integral part of the existing discussion: Apple and Google employees were threatened with imprisonment if they didn't remove the app.

> but are they really that much better off?

Now who's moving the discussion away from topic? It certainly isn't me lol

I'll entertain your question though: some will be better off, some will be worse off, and some will not be affected at all. When you deal with any large dataset, such as the entire population of a country, there will always be individual samples which demonstrate the benefits of most outcomes.

HOWEVER I do not believe the instances of those who are better off under a dictatorship equal out the atrocities that dictators use to retain their control. And that is the real crux of the problem.

> That people chant USA! USA! USA! while doing something doesn't mean they are free.

I'm not American and don't have a particularly high opinion of American politics either but it's still better than a dictatorship.

I also suspect you're now drifting into a philosophical argument about what it means to be "free".

> It does feel better, sure, but it doesn't give any less media bias at all.

Finally you're back on topic! As I stated in my previous post, every country will have bias in the media. That's unavoidable. However what is important is that the media have freedom to choose their political biases. In "free" countries you'd typically get new outlets which will favour the current government but also outlets that will be highly critical of the government. And that is the difference between Russia and most of the rest of the world. It might seem like a really small point if you're used to Russian (or any other state-controlled) media but I promise you that it really is a significant difference!

> If anything US media is more biased than Russian or at least as bad

No, it really is not. You have platforms that can offer opposing arguments and full press freedom to use them. America even has rules stating that one should have the freedom to speak out against the government (and this was upheld in court when Trump tried to block people he didn't like on Twitter). Compare that with most dictatorships where vocal opponents often end up exiled (or worse!) and you'll see my point that you cannot argue the two to be equivalent.


Agreed. Navalny’s behavior is seen by many as “election meddling” backed by a hostile foreign power. Sound familiar?


The central point of this in 2016 was an actual crime being committed at the behest or reward of an American campaign.

So it sounds familiar if you squint and stand a hundred yards back.


Allow side-loading so that you don’t leave yourself open to a situation where the only way your customers get access to a voting app is by having your employees jailed. The AppStore creates an easily exploitable bottleneck for governments to take advantage of. The hkmap.live situation during the protests in Hong Kong was similar.


As much as I like a lot of the benefits of the walled garden (from a consumer perspective, not necessarily as a developer), this is actually a very good argument for side-loading and one that I hadn't thought about before.


~4 years ago I gave a talk at Mozilla Privacy Lab (perfected from a talk I gave at 360|iDev) that focused on these moral reasons for not having centralized systems, looking at everything from government control to the tyranny of the majority, that I called "That's How you Get a Dystopia".

https://youtu.be/vsazo-Gs7ms

As far as I am concerned, you absolutely cannot have centralized control over something like "all software distribution" without being actively complicit with such regimes, and that people working for Apple have chosen to normalize this is unconscionably immoral :(.


> As far as I am concerned, you absolutely cannot have centralized control over something like "all software distribution" without being actively complicit with such regimes

Yeah that seems to distil the problem down to the fundamentals. Will watch your talk, thanks!


The app is still available in other countries, so in order to install it in Russia one just have to create another Apple account to install it from a foregn app store on the device.


"Just" creating another Apple account means forfeiting all your data, apps, purchases etc. There are many simpler ways to access that same data, for example on navalny's website via a vpn. But all those ways are too complicated for most people.


That's not how it works on iOS. iCloud and App Store accounts can be switched independently. After the installation you can switch back to your main account, and all your data will still be there. Newly installed app should auto-update as well.

I personally have apps from 2-3 different countries' store accounts on my Apple devices.


It's hard to maximise profit and have consistent internal moral principles. As the other child comment mentioned, I would have preferred if Apple doesn't collaborate with these regimes and build their systems in such a way that they can't stand in the way of people doing what they want. But when you try to maximise profit, you have to interpose yourself as the gatekeeper, so you can extract as much value from the flow. And that of course makes you vulnerable to these kind of regimes.


Arbitrary imprisoning or harming the employees of Google or Apple would likely result in many other western IT firms closing their offices and leaving, that would be a very stupid thing to do for the Russian government. So I don’t think such threats could have been real (but I guess you can’t really count on authoritarian regimes not doing something completely irrational).


NYT and Bloomberg report that threats were real: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28563916


I’m not denying these threats were issued, but actually following them through would be a very irrational thing to do. So it’s probably just a bluff. Of course it doesn’t really matter that much since Google/Apple were going to comply with their requests anyway.


Autocratic leaders can get pretty irrational in their quest of preserving power down to the point of harming what seems to be their interests in major ways.


Russiam government needs to shut up Navalny a lot more than they need western IT companies. Successful multinationals know when to blink.


Putin has attacked a good many political dissidents on foreign soil, is it really such an unbelievable claim?

> likely result in many other western IT firms closing their offices and leaving

That's just naive. Russia and China are huge markets. Apple and Google are not going anywhere unless their hands are forced.


It’s not an all or nothing outcome. And I’m not talking about Google or Apple leaving. There are many companies which have dev offices in Russia, they would be less likely to hire new employees in Russia if they believed they can be arbitrarily imprisoned for random reasons.

Just look at what’s happening in Belarus in the last year (IT companies started fleeing to neighboring countries)


I don’t know what people expect here. Companies can’t really stand up to governments, especially autocratic ones overseas. Apple’s only option would be to leave Russia completely.

That might be the right thing to do but it’s a tough sell to shareholders.


This hurts Apple. Remember, Apple's entire argument for CSAM scanning is that they would resist pressure to modify the system.

Obviously they won't if they fold this easy.


>It's worth watching

Why haven't you provided a link then?


It was published on a Telegram channel: https://t.me/A000MP97/93


Honestly Apple's Russian executives look very weak and unprepared in this video.

I suspect they're just hired from some agency or consultancy as FAANG have very limited corporate presence in Russia.

So they just keep being sheepish and stumbling because they have no incentive to stand their ground. Just hired guns.


From what I gather it was an unexpected invitation for the companies. They learned about it only a day before.


Those are lawyers hired by Apple and Google, not employees.


They still looked unprepared.

The inquirer asked basic questions like "who controls App Store" or "what is the relationship between local subsidiary and Apple Inc."

They stumbled and mumbled looking lost. They looked like they didn't have clear defense line or strategy although the attack on Apple was absolutely on cards for years.

I hope I'm wrong judging by a short video but it's a bad look for Apple.

It's possible Apple is just giving in to Kremlin (or have an agreement already even) so they don't even bother or care to defend themselves.


> I hope I'm wrong judging by a short video but it's a bad look for Apple.

Is it implausible that the lawyers were coerced into looking weak to provide a propaganda victory for the regime?


Google and Apple had been asked by the Council to visit the hearing 2 days in advance which is not enough to prepare for anything related to "the offense on the sovereignty".


I just watched this video but didn't find anything about threatening jail time. It was a bunch of bickering about Apple Inc. and Apple Distribution International Limited.


Care to provide a source for this?


>Google removed the app in Russia under pressure after officials threatened to imprison its local employees, a person close to the company said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-09-16/russia-ta...

>Google removed the app Friday morning after the Russian authorities issued a direct threat of criminal prosecution against the company’s staff in the country, naming specific individuals, according to a person familiar with the company’s decision.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/17/world/europe/russia-naval...


Incredible and horrifying at the same time. I think this is the final nail in the coffin for foreign investment in Russia.


This is shadier than it seems. The opposition organization FBK (ФБК) was just called out as "extremists," and with this government decision, they wrote mails to Google and Apple to block "extremists." There are published answers from Apple with details.

https://twitter.com/ioannZH/status/1438750081402953728

Any government can easily classify any opposition as "extremists" now and Apple and Google will ban them.


If you build tools of oppression (not making it easy to use alternate app stores) they will inevitably be abused by those wishing to oppress.


> Letting your Russian employees be persecuted don't amount to "doing the right thing".

I disagree. Western companies have no moral obligation to bend their own ethics, help a tyrant, and harm a nation, in order to "save" one, or a handful, of employees from said tyrant.

Quite the opposite, the right thing to do is to take a stand and force the tyrant out in broad daylight.


It's one thing to flinch immediately, another to let this stand. By now there has been enough time for Mountain View to lock any Russian IPs out of Play Store moderation and to reinstate the apps unilaterally, with a clear statement that no one below the C-suite will be able to undo the decision. Otherwise, the org chart is clearly inverted.


As a Russian I say they should have hired "martyrs" from opposition onto the jailable positions. Not having "martyrs" on these positions saved Putin's regime a lot of face, of actually persecuting a famous companys' local division directors for not censoring the internet. Now they know how to force these companies to do what they want, and do it quickly.


that's really clever. Navalny himself shows that such martyrs exist, brave enough to return after being poisoned. But what if they arrest everyone and not just the martyrs?


Companies shouldn't put themselves in this position: they should simply refuse to have a local presence or local employees in authoritarian-leaning countries.


There is a law in Russia (going into effect next year) that large IT companies must have local presence, otherwise they will be banned from operating in the country. I believe this is inspired by a similar law in China.


So actual teeth (arrests) in policy works? U.S should make notes. We're due for new treason (aiding a foreign adversary) laws that cover global companies.


> Letting your Russian employees be persecuted don't amount to "doing the right thing".

IT IS very much a right thing. Don't want to work for such company? Leave! It's not an indentured slavery!

Fuck, You Sergei Brin! You just screwed the most monumental display of courage, and determination by employees of Google Russia with a single pen stroke.


It's something else to risk your own well being for a cause than to risk someone elses well being.


It were 2, or 3 thousand Google Russia employees who signed on to adamantly oppose any attempt to block this app in the play store. Brin basically betrayed Google Russia, and its employees.

Nobody had Sergei Brin call them, and tell to do that.

It was an act 100% of their own volition.


The real threat came from the fine the government intended to impose on the companies. They threatened to fine not the fixed amount, as they did before, but to calculate it from the turnover values. Which could result in millions of dollars. The Russian government recently fined Booking with almost 18 million USD. For Google and Apple the fine could be even bigger.

The threat to employees on the other hand was not real one, there is no one to legally procecute in the Russian subsidiaries of the companies.


Without knowing much about the specifics... A threat can be totally real, even if "there is no one to legally prosecute". In most countries (even in countries that most people would consider more democratic), if people in power want to "make a point", they will find a way.

I'm an immigrant who moved from Hungary to Germany, lived in Spain and Mexico, and I know many examples from all countries where people in power got their way through various ways, even if they had no legal way to enforce their will on others. Also do not forget, if you control legislation, the judges, the constitution, the police, etc, what is legal one day, can become illegal and prosecuted and persecuted pretty quickly.


They don't need a legal ground to harm any Russian citizen. Last several years political repressions are gaining momentum and there's less and less care about keeping it in a legal field.


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