A series of moves against internet companies, culminating in a new law designed to force them to keep all data about Russians inside the country, has led some Russian entrepreneurs and engineers to consider relocating outside the country.
Google would not comment on Thursday on the reason for the move, which was first reported by the tech news service The Information, and it was not clear whether the retreat was a response to an erosion of the country’s internet freedoms or any direct pressure on the company.
It has been the subject of a rapid escalation of government requests to remove links from its search engine, with the number more than doubling to 253 in the first six months of 2013, the latest period for which data are available.
Russia’s law requiring data to be held locally is the most drastic step taken by a foreign government in response to revelations about widespread internet surveillance by the US National Security Agency. Critics say that the law, rather than being designed to protect the privacy of Russian citizens, was meant to make it harder for US internet companies to operate in the country and would help the country’s intelligence agencies increase the level of their own spying.
The family history of Sergey Brin, Google’s Russian-born co-founder, has also long left a question over its position in the country. Mr Brin’s parents suffered anti-semitism that hampered their scientific careers, contributing to a decision to emigrate to the US when he was six. Mr Brin’s reaction to the discrimination suffered by his family was a factor in Google’s decision to quit China several years ago rather than continue to bow to censorship there, according to people who know him.
The internet search company said its other operations in Russia would remain in the country: “We are deeply committed to our Russian users and customers and we have a dedicated team in Russia working to support them,” it said in a statement.
The mainly Russian engineers, who number less than 100, are to be offered jobs in other countries. Google has closed engineering offices in other countries in the past for business reasons and moved teams of engineers to other countries, leaving open the possibility that considerations other than a crackdown on the internet were a factor in the decision.
Coming on the same day that it closed its Spanish news search site, the partial retreat from Russia highlighted the growing political and legal pressures that have threatened to stem the company’s rapid global expansion.