Just a day after Google announced its decision to pull the plug on Google News in Spain, the company has decided to shutter its engineering operations in Russia as well.
The motivation behind the latest move though appears to be completely different from the dispute over copyright fees that prompted Google’s decision in Spain.
In a report Dec. 11, the U.K.’s Financial Times said Google has decided to pull its engineering staff in Russia ahead of a new law that will require Internet service providers to store all data on Russian citizens within Russia.
The 100 or so mainly Russian engineers that Google employs in the country will be offered an opportunity to work in Google facilities in other locations, the paper noted. Google will, however, continue operating its other businesses in the country as usual.
A Google spokesman on Dec. 12 did not offer any reasons for the company’s decision to pare down operations in Russia. But Google remains committed to its customers there, he said. “We are deeply committed to our Russian users and customers and we have a dedicated team in Russia working to support them,” the spokesman said in an emailed statement.
Bloomberg News, in a report citing unnamed sources, said Google actually plans to increase its investments in Russia despite the decision to pull out its engineering operations there. Google has made similar decisions in Sweden, Finland and Norway, the Bloomberg report added.
Russian lawmakers passed the Internet law at the center of Google’s decision last July but decided to move forward the date it would go into effect by 18 months. Originally scheduled for September 2016, the law now is scheduled to go into effect January 2015. It basically requires Internet companies holding data on Russian citizens to make sure the data is stored on servers inside the country.
According to the Moscow Times, the law was birthed out of concerns among Russian lawmakers over the privacy and security of Russian data stored on foreign servers. But Russian trade groups and others have said the decision to fast track the bill makes it highly unlikely that Internet companies will be able to comply in time for the deadline.
Others also see the Internet law as signs of a broader and troubling crackdown on Internet freedoms in Russia. “The government has gone on a regulatory binge since late 2011, when Moscow was hit by large anti-Putin protests largely coordinated online,” the Moscow Times wrote. “Several extrajudicial Internet blacklists have been introduced, giving rise to concern of heightened political censorship.”
Political bloggers and bloggers who have audiences of more than 3,000 readers are now required to register with the government, while social media companies such as Skype, Twitter and Facebook have all been threatened, the news site said.
For Google, this marks the second time just this week where the company has said it will be closing operations in a particular country. On Dec. 11, the company confirmed that it will shut down its Google News service in Spain weeks before a new law goes into effect that will require search engines and news aggregators to pay royalty fees for using text clippings in links to news articles.