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Russian parliament may ban Google ads to counter planned measures against RT and Sputnik

The threat comes after Google’s Eric Schmidt said he would work to ‘de-rank’ Russian media in Google news

(Meduza) – Pyotr Tolstoy, the deputy speaker of the State Duma, says Moscow will consider banning Google from collecting advertising revenue in Russia, in response to the company’s recent actions against Russian media outlets.

“Here in Russia we’re also concerned about the situation with undesirable, dangerous promoted information reaching social network users. […] And if global companies like Google and Facebook are telling the U.S. Congress that they can’t separate the bad ads from the good ads, and the dangerous ads from the harmless ads, then we, too, are worried about this,” Tolstoy said on Tuesday, speaking at a conference on youth media, held at the parent company “Rossiya Segodnya,” which manages Sputnik and RIA Novosti.

“We also would like to meet and talk about what can be done to protect Russian citizens from dangerous content. And if this isn’t possible, then let’s just shut off all advertising with new legislation. Maybe this doesn’t affect foreign users, but it absolutely affects Russians,” Tolstoy said.

The Duma vice speaker’s remarks follow an announcement on Monday that Google News is working to “de-rank” stories from Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik. In October, moreover, Google removed RT from a package of premium YouTube videos it sells to advertisers.

According to Tolstoy, Google earns roughly $34 billion a year in Russia. He acknowledges that this isn’t a “decisive amount of money,” in terms of Google’s global revenues, but he says it should be enough to get the company’s attention. “We will monitor how the situation develops, and we’ll take any necessary, firm action because our national interests and our freedom are at stake,” Tolstoy concluded.

Alexander Zharov, the head of Roskomnadzor, Russia’s federal media regulator, has reportedly demanded that Google explain how exactly it plans to change its ranking system for news content. Zharov says his agency will consider “more serious measures” in response, if Google ignores Roskomnadzor’s request.

In January 2017, U.S. government officials released a declassified intelligence report on Russian interference in American domestic politics. More than a quarter of that report consisted of an annex detailing the supposedly colossal significance of the RT television network. Ten months later, on the basis of this report, Twitter banned advertising on its network by RT, citing its role in the “state-sponsored Russian efforts to interfere with and disrupt the 2016 presidential election.”

On November 9, RT chief editor Margarita Simonyan announced that her television network had been left with “no choice” but to register as a foreign agent in the United States. Days after RT‘s FARA registration, the owner of a D.C.-area radio station, Reston Translator, registered under FARA as a U.S. rebroadcaster of Sputnik‘s online audio stream.

America’s Foreign Agents Registration Act typically applies to groups lobbying on behalf of foreign governments, but the FARA registry does include a few foreign media outlets, as well. Organizations registered under FARA, however, are permitted to continue publishing and broadcasting.

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