The Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to multiple sanctions and it’s not just the government that’s impacted; many companies have been affected too, leading to effects that trickle down to everyday mobile app users. That’s the case for the Google Play store and its customer base, which can no longer make purchases or perform updates on previously-purchased digital assets.
Google Play Store Closes Purchases to Russian Users
Google has been forced to close the Google Play App Store in Russia in an effort to maintain compliance and alignment with the latest rounds of sanctions, effectively cutting off users who wish to make purchases of new apps. Russia-based customers are also unable to initiate updates on paid apps.
Many companies have voluntarily moved their business out of Russia entirely as a result of the Ukraine invasion, but Google wasn’t amongst them. Instead, Google opted to continue to do business in Russia, alluding to the fact that it was catering to innocent civilians.
But the reality is that Android users haven’t been able to make app purchases from the Google Play Store in weeks — since March 2022. That’s when Google had to “pause” app sales due to “disruptions” associated with the four major credit card companies — Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express — that voluntarily decided to stop doing business in Russia. Without these credit card companies in play, Google found it virtually impossible to process purchases for Russian customers.
Now, Google says that the “pause” is continuing not as a result of the credit card company issue, but in efforts to stay compliant with Russian sanctions.
What Does this Mean for Russian Google Play Customers?
Russian users are confronted with an error message if they attempt to purchase an app in the Google Play store. It says: “Users cannot purchase apps and games, make subscription payments or conduct any in-app purchases of digital goods using Google Play in Russia.”
Apps that have already been installed and activated on the user’s device will remain operational (aside from the ability to make in-app purchases), although as mentioned above, app updates will not be available.
In the case of free apps, the Google Play store will continue to offer these to Russian users.
Access to all paid subscriptions will conclude once they come up for renewal payments. That’s because Google will reportedly be canceling all paid subscriptions for Russian customers.
Google says that Russia-based app developers will continue to receive payments for their apps, assuming they remain available for purchase on the platform.
Compliance at the Root of Google’s Decision to Halt Sales to Russians
Today, Google is no longer pointing to the credit card companies as its reason for pausing sales to Russian mobile users. Instead, the tech giant is citing “compliance efforts” as the reason behind its decision to block the purchase of paid apps in this nation. In other words, sanctions have prompted the tech company’s latest move.
Google’s decision to continue to do business of any kind in Russia has made it a bit of an anomaly in the tech sector, where fellow technology giants — such as Apple and Microsoft — have closed stores and departed Russia entirely. Even McDonald’s recently announced its decision to close all of its restaurants, leaving the nation permanently along with hundreds of others.
Google has made it clear that it supports Ukraine, publishing a blog that details their efforts to help the nation and its people. They also ceased making payouts on advertising revenues for Russian users.
Many have surmised that Russia’s hyper-competitive search marketplace has made Google reluctant to close up shop. But this decision has come at a price, with Google receiving lots of critiques, including from Forbes, which recently called the company “Putin’s most compliant U.S. tech censor.” It should be noted that Google did promptly remove the RT app from the Google Play store shortly after the start of the invasion into Ukraine. RT is a Russia-based news outlet that has been subject to heavy government influence. RT, like other Russian government-controlled news organizations, has been accused of parroting Kremlin propaganda and censoring other information on the conflict.
For the time-being, it appears that Russian citizens will need to seek out their mobile apps — and app updates — directly from the developers. Some developers do offer their mobile apps for purchase and install directly via their websites, although many are understandably wary of acquiring apps in this way due to the potential risk of accidentally installing apps containing malware or viruses. For this reason, it is recommended that users only install apps from a reputable developer.
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