Russia passed several laws this year that restrict Internet freedoms, including a measure that requires information about Russian citizens to be stored within the country’s borders, and another that obligates popular bloggers in Russia to register with the government and prohibits them from using foul language.
Google hasn’t publicly announced why it’s closing its Russian engineering branch, but it will leave open its other Russian offices focused on areas such as sales, marketing, and customer support.
News of the office closure was first reported by Amir Efrati of tech site The Information, who earlier noted that other major technology companies, such as Adobe, Skype, Yandex, and Mail.ru, are leaving the country in response to new data and tax laws. Many companies are relocating their offices to the Czech Republic or Lithuania, which have less government intrusion into business.
A Google spokesperson told PC Magazine in an e-mail that the company is “deeply committed to our Russian users and customers and we have a dedicated team in Russia working to support them.” That means Google probably isn’t planning to shutter its Russian operations altogether. Russia has a growing economy and an increasing number of citizens who are conducting business online, and Google services such as the Android mobile operating system are very popular in Russia.
This isn’t the first time Google has withdrawn some or all of its operations from a country due to inhospitable laws. In 2010, the company stopped offering services in China in response to government censorship of its search results. (It’s worth noting that Google warmed to China ever so slightly this year. Although the Google Play store still isn’t available in the country, in November Google began allowing Chinese app developers to sell their software to customers in other countries.)
The Russian law requiring that data be stored in local servers is set to take effect in January, over protests from Russian Internet users. The law will prevent Russians from using international social networks such as Facebook, unless those companies find a way to keep data on their Russian users exclusively in Russian data centers. Rather than deal with harsh restrictions on data management practices (and potential fines for noncompliance), companies such as Google and Adobe seem to find it easier simply to relocate their engineers to other countries than to continue developing the companies’ services.