What just happened? Russia is well-known for its controversial digital policies, but the country has now passed a law that will prohibit the sale of devices that don't come pre-configured with Russian software. This will come into effect in July 2020 and will affect everything from smartphones to PCs and smart TVs.
Russia's lower house of parliament has passed new legislation that will supposedly promote local technology innovations and has critics worried that big tech companies will shut down their business in the country as a result.
The new law will come into effect in July 2020, and will make it mandatory for manufacturers of smart devices to pre-install Russian-made software on them before selling them to consumers. Failing to do that will result in fines of up to 200,000 rubles (around $3,125) and repeat offenders will be banned from selling their products in the country.
This will have a great impact on companies like Apple, who are very reluctant to install third-party software services on their devices. To be clear, the new law doesn't mean the company would have to replace its own default apps, but it will be required to also pre-install any alternatives offered by Russian software companies.
Oleg Nikolayev, who is one of the bill's co-authors, says it will help promote local services, who can't compete with Western ones if they're not visible for end users. He notes that pre-installing alternatives on all devices will make it clear to users that they have a choice, whereas leaving them out would give the impression that those provided by the manufacturer are the only ones available.
However, critics argue the bill has the risk of driving away big companies from operating in the Russian market. Apple reportedly told Kommersant that "a mandate to add third-party applications to Apple's ecosystem would be equivalent to jailbreaking. It would pose a security threat, and the company cannot tolerate that kind of risk."
It will be interesting to see Apple's official reaction to the new law. The company is treading lightly as of late to appeal to governments in markets where it has a lot of room for growth. The most recent case is when it removed a Hong Kong protest app to appeal to China's interests.
In any case, Russian pressure on Western tech companies is nothing new. In 2017, Google was forced to allow manufacturers to pre-configure Yandex as the default search engine for Android devices sold in the country.
The new law also raises fears that Russia could be interested in policing what users do on their devices through hidden surveillance tools in pre-installed apps. And this could also tie in with the country's plan to operate its own internet using a law that came into effect earlier this month.