Will Russian software be a legal requirement for smartphones?

Will Russian software be a legal requirement for smartphones?

A story gaining a lot of attention since early November has been the passage through Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, of a bill that aims to prevent the sale of certain devices lacking pre-installed Russian software. Now that bill has received its third and final reading.

The bill will, it appears, ensure that domestic software is installed on electronic devices sold in Russia. The bill’s aim is to promote domestically developed programmes, offering users a Russian alternative alongside pre-installed software.

While it’s not yet clear what all these devices could be (the government will determine this – and the software the devices need to contain), they are referred to as “technically complex goods”, including smartphones, computers and smart televisions.

But concerns have been voiced – in particular about surveillance by Russian-made software and the possibility that firms could pull out of the Russian market. Some local manufacturers and distributors have argued that it will not be possible to install Russian-made software on some devices.

The new legislation comes just weeks after the country introduced new controls on the internet amid fears that the government will try to create an internet firewall similar to that in China.

There is, however, an explanatory note with the bill, suggesting that its purpose is to allow Russians to use certain devices without having to install additional mobile apps. The bill’s co-sponsors also suggest that pre-installing Russian-made apps will help “protect Russian internet companies”.

What that might mean for companies like Apple is an interesting question that has not yet been clearly addressed. The law will not mean devices from other countries cannot be sold with their normal software. However, it will mean that Russian ‘alternatives’ will also have to be installed. In any case, the fines for companies that do not comply with the recommendations are not exactly swingeing – at least for now.

That said the bill has yet to be endorsed by the Federation Council, or upper house of the parliament. It has also to be signed into law by Russian President Vladimir Putin. A fully functioning law is therefore unlikely to be in place until July 1, 2020.

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