Google ordered to submit search index to state sponsorship in Russia

January 16, 2019

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Russian information agency Roskomnadzor is requiring Google and Bing to subject their results to government censorship. (Yandex has reportedly already complied.) A law passed last year in the country mandates that search engine results be filtered through the federal state information system (FGIS).

Russia increases internet censorship. The new Russian situation is comparable to Chinese rules requiring internet companies to censor results to block officially undesirable or threatening information. In addition to censoring online content, China is using internet and mobile technology to spy on its citizens. However, it doesn’t appear that Russia is as aggressive in using the internet as a tool of domestic surveillance.

Fines are low — so far. In December, Google was fined 500,000 rubles (less than $8,000) for not complying with the filtering law. With fines so low, Google and others could potentially ignore the law indefinitely. This capacity to ignore state fines is one reason why the EU dramatically increased financial penalties for non-compliance with its regulations over the past few years.

It’s also possible, according to reports, that Russia could take further action to increase pressure on Google or entirely block the company from operating in the country. However, Google would probably not want that outcome.

Russian search share and revenues. One third-party estimate of Google’s Russian paid-search revenues in 2017 was roughly 45 billion rubles ($681.3 million). Globally, Google reported more than $95 billion in advertising revenues that year.

According to StatCounter the Russian search market breaks down as follows:

  • Yandex — 54 percent
  • Google — 42 percent
  • — 2 percent
  • Others — 2 percent

Why you should care. These censorship moves only apply to search results and companies operating in Russia. And while they have implications for content publishers, it’s not entirely clear how these rules might impact advertisers. However, they’re part of a broader pattern of increasing state regulation of search results (Europe is doing this in different ways) that marketers should keep an eye on.

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