Russia Suing Google Over Gambling Ads

Tisha Walden | 18 Dec 2018

GoogleRoskomnadzor, the telecoms regulator for the Russian media, is taking legal action against Google after the technology company failed to adhere to the government’s rules regarding gambling and censorship.

The tech giant is being accused of refusing to remove websites that have been banned from search results, even though there are laws in place requiring them to do so. The Russians have a blacklist of more than 100 000 sites, which it earmarks with ISP blocking, making them unavailable to citizens. The list includes everything from torrent sites to online casinos. There are even a couple of Wikipedia pages that have been banned. Back in 2016 LinkedIn got blocked after they failed to move Russian user data to the country’s territory.

Reports state that although certain controversial sites have started disappearing from Google and its main rival in the domestic market, Yandex, there are still many appearing on the results pages of searches. Too many, according to Roskomnadzor.

All Talk, No Action

Despite Roskomnadzor’s reach expanding thanks to additional powers being granted it by the Russian Federal Assembly, it’s more bark than bite when it comes to controlling behemoths like Google.

It’s problematic for the federal executive body to enforce its rulings, and its ability even to fine companies that ignore the legislation is very limited. That hasn’t stopped them from trying, however, and they’ve threatened Google with a penalty of US$10 400. Compare this to the US$5 billion the European Union demanded from the technology company in July for Android OS antitrust issues, and it becomes clear that this suit is unlikely to be taken very seriously, or to have much effect.

Governmental Restrictions on the Rise

Freedom House, the American organisation that conducts research on and advocates for democracy, human rights, and political freedom, has deemed the country's cyberspace Not Free as of 2015. The legalisation and regulation of sports betting for those who live there was stepped up in 2014, with the goal of combatting not just foreign brands, but those operating domestically without a license as well.

In June of 2017, access to got temporarily blocked because one of its pages redirected readers to a banned betting site. Normal services started up again when the offending page was deleted. The Kremlin outlawed VPNs in November last year, but the black market is in full swing.

The Bookmakers Rating website estimates that around US$11.8 billion was spent on sports betting in 2017, and at least 65% of that money is still going to unlicensed, unregulated operators.