New law compels installation of Russian software on all smartphones sold there

The Russian parliament has passed a law compelling all smartphones and other connected devices to have Russian software installed.

The news comes courtesy of the Beeb, which notes that the unspecified software doesn’t have to replace operating systems like Android, but does have to be available as an alternative in the highly unlikely circumstance that a user should want to switch. From the middle of next year it will be illegal to sell smart connected devices without Russian software preinstalled.

“When we buy complex electronic devices, they already have individual applications, mostly Western ones, pre-installed on them,” said Oleg Nikolayev, one of the people behind the new law. “Naturally, when a person sees them, they might think that there are no domestic alternatives available. And if, alongside pre-installed applications, we will also offer the Russian ones to users, then they will have a right to choose.”

Yeah, Oleg, but they already had the right to choose, didn’t they? Now device makers no longer have the right to choose what software to preinstall on their products. The stated aim behind the law is to give a boost to domestic software makers, but that’s not going to convince many people. There are many ways for the state to assist local champions, but force is a very undesirable option.

Unless they also compel gadget owners to actually use the software, which would escalate the initiative towards outright oppression, nobody’s going to use it unless it’s better than the alternatives. And if it is then there shouldn’t be the need for any kind of coercion because people will want to install it anyway. It’s called the free market.

Any time the state opts to interfere with what are normally private matters people will naturally speculate about ulterior motives. In this case it’s easy to believe that the Russian software the state is so keen on installing on connected devices may have more sinister uses, such as spying. At the very least we would expect platform and device makers to examine any state compelled software very closely and, hopefully, refuse to install it if they smell a rat.

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