The founder of Telegram, Pavel Durov, said that he had to suspend the work of the Smart Voting bot (a project of the team of the oppositionist Alexei Navalny, the creator of the recognized foreign agent, an extremist organization and the banned Anti-Corruption Fund) due to the fact that otherwise he would be under the threat of blocking the messenger itself.
“But last weekend was not the right moment to start a war,” Durov added, noting that there are two reasons for this. First, without the support of Apple and Google, any fight with local regulators “will be lost before it even starts”, since if Telegram is removed from stores, users will not be able to receive updates and bypass local bans, and the messenger's website may be blocked.
According to Durov, 50 million Russians “depend” on the security and freedom of speech provided by Telegram, and more than a billion other users need updates, which are usually suspended in all countries in case of inconsistency with laws in individual states.
“To block Telegram for all Russians in order to give a political party an additional day or two for campaigning after the elections have already begun is like sacrificing a queen for a pawn in chess without a clear path to victory,” Durov explained his position.
He added that for him the interests of millions of users are more important than any political force and he is ready to personally take a blow from politicians from both the ruling parties and the opposition.
“Some people ask if we could have avoided this. They rightly expect us to question any censorship demands, ”Durov wrote. He noted that in the past, Telegram had already shown its readiness, if necessary, to come into conflict with the authorities and had resisted blocking attempts for years.
“This specific demand of the Russian authorities was not clearly unconstitutional, since they referred to a law restricting campaigning after voting began,” added the founder of Telegram, noting that similar laws exist in other countries and receive a similar demand from any European messenger. countries, the result would be the same. At the same time, Durov noted that if Telegram were required to take actions that would imply a clear violation of human rights, then he would prefer to face blocking than to sacrifice values. In his post, he also recalls that in Russia the messenger has already been fined 35 million rubles.
Durov believes that compared to other applications, Telegram gives users more freedom of speech, but the messenger depends on other companies, from banks to Apple and Google. “The latter are especially important because Telegram – like all mobile apps – must follow the rules set by Apple and Google to remain accessible to users on iOS and Android,” Durov writes.
This year, Google and Apple began to require apps like Telegram to comply with the laws of the countries in which they operate, but in the case of some laws (especially those related to surveillance) that run counter to human rights, the creators of operating systems did not put pressure on Telegram. notes Durov. “Other laws, mainly related to publicly available content, are considered legitimate by Apple and Google, and we are forced to follow their example every time they apply them to their ecosystems,” said the founder of Telegram.
An example of such a situation, he called the situation with the Navalny application with the Smart Voting block, which Apple and Google removed from their stores on September 17. Durov noted that the “smart voting” bot had been working for several months and, despite thousands of complaints and demands, it was not touched on Telegram. However, after the removal of the application and subsequent explanations from Apple that it was removed due to Russian laws, the management of the messenger took such a step. Before the removal of the Navalny application, the first deputy head of the international committee of the Federation Council, FSB general Vladimir Dzhabarov, at a meeting of the interim commission for the protection of state sovereignty, spoke about the possible consequences for Google and Apple employees in case of interference in the elections.
“Structures and personalities associated with Apple and Google should be aware that their deliberately illegal actions and criminal inaction after receiving appropriate warnings from Russian officials will inevitably have legal consequences for them, including criminal ones,” Jabarov said.
The elections to the State Duma were held on September 17-19. As a result, United Russia retained its majority in parliament, gaining 49.82% on the lists and receiving 324 mandates, taking into account single-mandate constituencies. Navalny, commenting on the suspension of the Smart Voting bot in Telegram, recalled how he spoke at a rally against blocking the messenger in 2018. “And I would have performed again, by the way. The fact that someone betrays their principles does not mean that we should doubt ours, ”the oppositionist concluded.