Google slow to penetrate Russia: battles with Yandex, lawsuit vs. government over content filtering
After many years spent unsuccessfully challenging local search giant Yandex for the Russian market, Google appears to have re-thought its strategy – though still not always finding common ground with Russian authorities.
In an interview with news agency RIA Novosti earlier this week, Google Russia CEO Yuliya Solovyova stated that the corporation considers Russia a most important region and is ready to prove it. However, she said, “Being the leader specifically in search is not a task we have set ourselves. We want to break the stereotype that Google is only about search. Our scope is much wider than that.”
Meanwhile Solovyova assured journalists that from now on many of the company’s products will be launched and localized in Russian as a priority.
One of Google’s most recent moves on the local market was to enlarge the coverage of Google Street View, which provides panoramic photos and allows users to explore locations very closely. Almost 200 Russian cities were added to the service in March and, according to Solovyova, Google Russia has plans to launch additional location-based services for the Winter Olympics of 2014 in Sochi.
Google’s move can be seen as a new development in the company’s competition with Yandex. Providing both similar and variant services, Yandex has always been ahead of Google on the Russian market in its core business, Internet search, where it holds more than 60% of the local market – compared with approximately 25% for the US giant.
On the rivalry between two companies, Solovyova took a dig at Yandex: “I appreciate many things that they [Yandex] are doing. But these often represent a good localization of our products,” she claimed. “And this should be a lesson to us; we need to launch Google’s global services in Russia more pro-actively, before Yandex does it faster and better.”
Another focus for Google is the monetization of its video hosting service,YouTube, where Russia is among the top five traffic-generating countries. But however good such plans may look on paper, on the way toward implementing them the company can expect obstacles from Russian authorities.
Here come the thorns
On the legal front, Google has been engaged in a battle with the Russian state on content filtering issues since the opening in late 2012 of a state portal, dubbed the Unified Register, that lists outlawed websites. This initiative by the Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications (Roskomnadzor) came as part of the new legislation on harmful Internet content which was adopted by the Russian parliament earlier that year.
Google began criticizing Russian authorities a month after the portal was launched, as the company’s IP addresses associated with Gmail, Google Drive, Google Play and YouTube were blocked by Roskomnadzor several times.
The situation stabilized in the winter, though in March another Russian government body came into play. Rospotrebnadzor, a government regulator that oversees national consumer markets, sent YouTube an order to delete a video with instructions on how to create make-up for a Halloween costume with imitation slit wrists, arguing that it constituted pro-suicide propaganda.
YouTube, in its turn, merely blocked the video and decided to challenge Rospotrebnadzor in a court. Though YouTube’s lawsuit was dismissed by the Moscow City Arbitration Court earlier this month, the legal battle did not stop there. According to a report by CNews.ru, YouTube filed another lawsuit against Rospotrebnadzor on April 30 with unknown content.