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Russia Targets Google For Not Deleting Banned Groups From Search Results

Russia's communications watchdog is accusing tech giant Google of failing to comply with a law requiring it to delete search results for organizations that are banned in Russia.

Roskomnadzor said on November 26 that it could hit Google with its maximum fine of 700,000 rubles ($10,450) if it is found guilty of the allegations.

The move against Google came as Reuters, citing anonymous industry sources, reported that Russia is planning to impose much stiffer fines on global technology firms that fail to comply with Russian laws, raising the stakes in the Kremlin's ongoing struggle with technology giants like Google and Facebook.

In the latest case, Roskomnadzor charged that Google had not joined a state registry that lists banned websites that Moscow believes contain illegal information, putting it in violation of the law.

A final decision in the case will be made in December, the watchdog said. Google declined to comment.

Over the past five years, Russia has introduced tougher Internet laws that require search engines like Google to delete some search results, as well as requiring messaging services to share encryption keys with security services, and social networks to store Russian users' personal data on servers within the country.

At the moment, the only tools Russia has to enforce such rules are fines that typically amount to only a few thousand dollars -- a small penalty to Silicon Valley's multibillion-dollar tech firms.

Russian authorities can also block the online services, though doing so has proved to be technically difficult. Russian regulators would retain their authority to block social-media firms under a draft of the new regulations seen by Reuters.

Three industry sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on November 26 that Russia in the future plans to impose stiffer fines on technology firms that fail to comply with its laws.

Under the draft legislation seen by Reuters, if it is approved, tech giants that breach Russian rules could face fines equal to 1 percent of their annual revenue in Russia.

That could lead to substantial fines. Google's Russian subsidiary, for example, had revenue of 45.2 billion rubles ($687 million) in 2017, according to the SPARK database.

The Kremlin did not respond to a request for comment.

Roskomnadzor has repeatedly accused Facebook and Google of failing to comply with Russian laws. It blocked access to LinkedIn in 2016 and tried to do the same to the Telegram encrypted messenger service in April.

The botched attempt to block Telegram inadvertently stopped Russian users from having access to voice calls on the Viber messaging service and cloud-based applications for Volvo cars, among other services.

Telegram is still accessible in Russia today.

With reporting by Reuters and Interfax
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