The day Russian agents threatened to imprison Apple and Google execs

From Greg Miller and Joseph Menn's "Putin’s pre-war moves against U.S. tech giants laid groundwork for crackdown on free expression" posted Saturday in the Washington Post:

Russian agents came to the home of Google’s top executive in Moscow to deliver a frightening ultimatum last September: take down an app that had drawn the ire of Russian President Vladimir Putin within 24 hours or be taken to prison.

Google quickly moved the woman to a hotel where she checked in under an assumed name and might be protected by the presence of other guests and hotel security, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The same agents — believed by company officials to be from Russia’s FSB, a successor to the KGB intelligence service — then showed up at her room to tell her the clock was still ticking.

Within hours, an app designed to help Russians register protest votes against Putin could no longer be downloaded from Google or Apple, whose main representative in Moscow faced a similarly harrowing sequence. Titans of American technology had been brought to their knees by some of the most primitive intimidation tactics in the Kremlin playbook.

My take: I regret describing what Apple and Google did as "caving." That was a cheap shot. I would have caved too, if Putin's agents came knocking on my door.

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7 Comments

  1. Dan Scropos said:
    For me, there is absolutely no apology necessary, PED. Cave is defined as “submit under pressure.” It’s perfectly appropriate grammar. I cannot imagine what sort of pressure human lives that you are responsible possibly hanging in the balance poses. I’d cave quickly, too.

    4
    March 12, 2022
  2. Fred Stein said:
    Thanks. We need to hear these stories – more so right now.

    There are real dangers in the world, real predators.

    People like Tim Cook have to make real decisions with real consequences. Some may be minor like lowering the fee on App Store to 15% for some developers. Others are tough, like doing business in totalitarian regimes. Apple decisions impact millions, even billions, of employees, customers, suppliers and shareholders.

    Defending overuse of ‘real’ above. So many Apple critics and their followers live in their make believe world of self-declared piety.

    7
    March 12, 2022
  3. Greg Lippert said:
    That changes the story.

    Now I’d move all Apple and Google employees out of Russia, and, if possible, turn of all state sponsored news and allow all other apps from around the world for the Russian people to see.

    3
    March 12, 2022
  4. Michael Goldfeder said:
    Even before the war broke out a few weeks, I’m wondering if personnel from any “Big Tech” company were receiving hazard pay for working in Russia?

    2
    March 12, 2022
  5. Jerry Doyle said:
    “…. When we took down the Navalny app, there was not a peep from any democratic element,” said an industry executive who had disagreed with the decision. “I was hoping we’d be beaten by [Secretary of State] Tony Blinken” or other U.S. or European Union officials, the executive said. “But no one did.”

    The USA & European leaders have been weak in confronting the bully Putin. Putin made a move on Ukraine because he SAW “weakness” in Western leaders unwilling to confront him. That’s how bullies operate. They act aggressively to exploit perceived vulnerabilities. The travesty is Western leaders now finding the courage (and needed urge) to act only after the need to do so, thus resulting in the loss of unnecessary human tragedies and personal freedoms.

    5
    March 13, 2022

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