According to Reuters, Russia has initiated a civil action against Google over the search engine’s alleged failure to censor search results in the country. The potential penalty is trivial: 700,000 roubles (approximately $10,450).

Banned websites in search results. A determination will be made next month about whether to impose the fine. The underlying issue is that Google has reportedly not adhered to a registry of banned websites. Homegrown Russian search site Yandex apparently also continues to feature some of these “illegal” sites.

Unlike China, which demands all sorts of concessions and generally gains them, Russia is in a comparatively weak position. According to the report, “the only tools Russia has to enforce its data rules are fines that typically only come to a few thousand dollars, or blocking the offending online services, which is an option fraught with technical difficulties.”

Seeking more significant fines. Apparently Russian authorities plan to change the law to allow them to impose more significant financial penalties on firms that fail to comply with its laws. The proposed increase allows fines of up to 1 percent of global revenues. In Google’s case that would represent more than $1 billion. This is similar to what the European Commission did a little over two years ago to make its financial penalties for data and privacy violations much more meaningful to internet companies.

In April of 2017, Google settled an antitrust action with Russian authorities over the pre-installation of Google apps on Android handsets. That case turned out to be predictive of a similar action several months later by the European Commission that resulted in a roughly $5 billion fine, which Google is currently appealing.

Why you should care. Multiple countries, including China, Russia, India and the members of the European Union have sought to regulate search results in one form or another. In most instances this is limited to the domestic market. But in others, (i.e., the Right to Be Forgotten) there are global implications.

While not all these moves are anti-speech or anti-democratic, increasingly bold efforts by governments to control internet content, social media and search results is part of a larger retreat of online free speech.

About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog, Screenwerk, about connecting the dots between digital media and real-world consumer behavior. He is also VP of Strategy and Insights for the Local Search Association. Follow him on Twitter or find him at Google+.

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