- A top Google executive in Moscow was threatened by Russian agents last September, per The Washington Post.
- She was told to remove an anti-Putin app or face going to prison, the newspaper said.
- Google reluctantly removed the app, used to help Russians register protest votes, The Post said.
The unnamed executive was told that she would have to remove an app from the Google app store within 24 hours or go to prison, people familiar with the matter told The Post.
The app, according to the newspaper, had angered Russian President Vladimir Putin because it was used to help Russians register protest votes against his United Russia party in the undemocratic legislative election in 2021.
The Smart Voting App was set up by Putin’s political rival Alexei Navalny, the newspaper said, who was imprisoned in 2021 after a poisoning attempt failed to kill him.
After receiving the threat at her home, Google moved the executive to a hotel. She checked in using a fake name to ensure her safety, The Post reported.
Company officials assumed that the presence of hotel security guards and other guests might protect her, sources told the newspaper under the condition of anonymity.
The same agents later visited her hotel room. They warned her the clock was ticking on the 24-hour ultimatum, per The Post.
Google officials believe the agents were from the FSB — the KGB’s main successor organization. Human-rights groups have warned that the FSB uses its powers to intimidate and stifle dissent, Insider previously reported.
After being poisoned, Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB agent who died in 2006, accused the agency of running a top-secret hit squad targeting political enemies. Litvinenko later died.
Google in Russia had previously resisted removing the app, according to The Post. It held off from delisting it from its search engine following an order from a Moscow court on September 3, the newspaper reported.
On September 14, The Post noted, armed Russian police intimidated employees by showing up to the Google offices in Moscow. At the time, The New York Times reported that Russian authorities named specific individuals who would face prosecution if the app wasn’t removed.
The app was disconnected the morning after the executive was threatened in her hotel room, The Post reported.
Removing it from the Google app store was not popular with many employees, and the decision was made reluctantly, the newspaper said.
“We resisted this position for as long as possible,” an email to staff said, per The Post. “Nothing is more important to Google than the safety and well-being of our employees.”
Insider contacted Google for comment on Saturday afternoon but did not immediately receive a response.
Apple’s main representative in Moscow was also threatened, said The Post but provided no further information.
Russia has continued to crackdown on Western technology amid the invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s communications agency Roskomnadzor announced that it would ban Instagram in the country from March 14, according to the agency’s website.