EXCLUSIVE: Rubio goes after Google and Apple for censoring millions of Russians on their election day

Story on the Washington Examiner website here: Rubio goes after Google and Apple for censoring millions of Russians on their election day

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio torched Google and Apple on Friday for bowing to the pressure of the Russian government and censoring Russian opposition members trying to persuade people to vote against President Vladimir Putin in the election earlier this month.

Earlier this month, both the tech giants removed from their respective app stores an app called Smart Voting , an app designed to help Russian voters choose the candidate most likely to defeat the ruling United Russia party. The app was created by allies of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The app was removed from Russian app stores on the very same day that voting began in the Russian elections and that Navalny, who has millions of supporters in Russia, was trying to whip votes against Putin's ruling party, which is known to be authoritarian and has a record of human rights abuses.

Both companies had previously ignored censorship attempts but this time decided to remove the app, following threats from the Kremlin to heavily fine and possibly criminally prosecute employees.

"By bowing to Moscow’s demand, Google and Apple have made themselves complicit in the censorship of an oppressive, authoritarian regime," Rubio said in a letter sent to Google and Apple obtained by the Washington Examiner. "You have set a disturbing precedent for both of your companies, and their peers, one with ramifications for billions of users of your technologies worldwide."

"Why your companies would choose to assist a regime that, just days beforehand, began fining Facebook and Twitter for refusing to remove content per its beck and call, as well as reportedly blocked users’ access to Smart Voting material hosted on Google Docs, is beyond comprehension," he added in the letter addressed to Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Apple and Google say they are forced to follow the legal requirements of the countries in which they operate, with Apple noting in a letter to the Smart Voting creators that “apps that solicit, promote or encourage criminal or clearly reckless behavior” were not allowed.

Navalny's organization has been listed as an unlawful extremist group by Putin's government, and the Russian leader has imprisoned and likely tortured and poisoned Navalny for his opposition to the ruling party and for accusing Putin of corruption, Navalny says.

In response to Apple and Google's decision to remove the opposition party's app, Navalny wrote from prison that “[i]f something surprised me in the latest elections, it was not how Putin forged the results, but how obediently the almighty Big Tech turned into his accomplices ... I know that most of those who work at Google, Apple, etc. are honest and good people. I urge them not to put up with the cowardice of their bosses.”

Rubio, in his letter, pushed Apple and Google to "reconsider" their decision to censor the Smart Voting app and requested greater background and transparency from the two companies regarding how they decided to take the actions they did in coordination with Putin's ruling government.