The European Union’s crackdown on Google’s Android has led to an unintended consequence: boosting the popularity of Russia’s favorite search-engine, accused by the bloc of spreading Kremlin propaganda about the invasion of Ukraine.
(Bloomberg) — The European Union’s crackdown on Google’s Android has led to an unintended consequence: boosting the popularity of Russia’s favorite search-engine, accused by the bloc of spreading Kremlin propaganda about the invasion of Ukraine.
Yandex NV’s rise follows an EU antitrust order that led to Alphabet Inc.’s Google offering phone users a choice of rival apps for internet searches on handsets running its Android operating system.
Yandex appears in the “choice screen” — allowing Android smartphone users to select their preferred search engine — in 23 European countries. It has recently risen to Android’s top five options in Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic and Denmark, among others, according to Android’s website.
“The real concern is that Yandex, a search-engine with clear ties with the Kremlin” is “still allowed to operate in our EU market,” said Stéphanie Yon-Courtin, a liberal member of the European Parliament. “The issue is not the choice screen, but the fact that Yandex is still one of the options to be considered.”
The firm has come under intense pressure both in Russia and abroad since President Vladimir Putin ordered the February 2022 invasion. Founder Arkady Volozh was hit by EU sanctions in June last year, with the EU citing Yandex support for Russian propaganda and the Kremlin’s narratives regarding the war.
In a September renewal of the EU’s sanctions list, the bloc accused the company of being “responsible for promoting state media and narratives in its search results, and deranking and removing content critical of the Kremlin, such as content related to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.”
“We categorically deny accusations of promoting propaganda,” a Yandex spokesperson said in response to the EU’s accusations. “Yandex doesn’t tweak algorithms to any political side.”
Former chief Volozh, who lives in Israel, publicly condemned the war in August, calling it barbaric. Yandex announced last year it wants to divest the Russian business in exchange for cash and licenses to develop four international projects. The talks with several potential Russian buyers haven’t yet resulted in a deal.
Yandex is domiciled in the Netherlands and was traded on the Nasdaq until its shares were frozen after the invasion. Registering abroad was a common strategy for Russian companies seeking foreign investors before the war in Ukraine caused a rupture in relations.
Yandex’s attempts to remain free of government influence became untenable amid the Kremlin’s crackdown on online information after the invasion. Putin signed a law that made spreading what the authorities deemed “fake news” about the military punishable by as much as 15 years in prison.
A European Commission spokesperson said it is for EU nations to “decide unanimously to list an individual or entity.” Google declined to comment.
The Android case is one of a series of antitrust clashes between the EU’s antitrust arm and the search-engine giant that’s already led to a trio of penalties totaling more than €8 billion ($8.8 billion) for abuses across other Google services.
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The choice screen was developed by Google in 2019 to appease EU anticompetitive concerns after the bloc’s regulators slapped the company with a €4.34 billion fine and told it to stop squeezing out rivals from the mobile search market.The screen allows Android mobile users to choose from the 5 most popular eligible general search services in their respective country. Google is appealing the decision in the EU courts.
Despite rising in the ranks in Android’s choice screen feature, Yandex’s mobile search engine market share remains at around 2.8% across the continent, according to data from StatCounter.
–With assistance from Stephanie Bodoni.
(Updates with Yandex comments in seventh paragraph.)
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