In order to control what kind of information its citizens have access to online, Russia operates an Internet ‘blacklist’.
Known locally as FGIS (Unified Register of Prohibited Information), the database contains the domains of thousands of sites containing anything from extremist material to pirated copies of movies and TV shows.
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Major online technology platforms are expected to interface with FGIS to ensure they receive up-to-date information on which sites are forbidden in Russia. In the case of search engines, the database provides details on which sites should be removed from search results.
After failing to connect its systems to the FGIS and deindexing sites as required, last December Google was fined by Russian authorities. That was followed by threats from local telecoms watch Roscomnadzor early 2019 that the US-based company could be fined again for non-compliance, as well as facing a potential block itself.
In February 2019 it was reported that Google was finally playing ball and everything was running more smoothly. However, that appears not have been the case. According to an announcement published this week by Roscomnadzor, Google has been fined again.
“The company has not complied with the requirements of the law..[..]..by excluding from search results links to Internet resources with illegal information, access to which is restricted in Russia,” Roscomndazor said.
“The control event recorded that Google carries out selective filtering of search results – more than a third of the links from a single registry of prohibited information are still preserved in its search results.”
Explaining that Google has been told repeatedly of the legal requirements in Russia, the watchdog revealed that the fine handed down was 700,000 rubles – just US$11,098 – a drop in the ocean as far as Google is concerned.
Digital rights group Roscomsvoboda reports that in April 2019, Google had removed 80% of the specified banned content from its search results. However, data covering the period ending May, for which the fine was levied, showed that removal levels had fallen to 67.5%.
Last month, when Google learned that it was in line for another fine after a warning from Roscomnadzor, the company expressed surprise.
“We have not changed anything. A couple of months ago we agreed that we will not connect to the registry of banned sites and will not blindly delete anything, but consider requests to delete content, and where it meets the requirements, we remove content from the Russian service,” a spokesperson said.
“We do not understand why Roscomnadzor is talking about a new case or where they get these figures from.”
Whether Google will eventually connect to the FGIS isn’t clear. It currently receives a daily list of sites to be blocked and acts on those as it sees fit. Only time will tell whether that will be enough for Roscomndazor moving forward.