Putin pans Wikipedia and makes Russian apps mandatory

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during an annual VTB Capital "Russia Calling" Investment Forum in Moscow, Russia, November 20, 2019. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday signed legislation requiring all smartphones, computers and smart TV sets sold in the country to come pre-installed with Russian software.

The law, which will come into force on July 1 next year, has been met with resistance by some electronics retailers, who say the legislation was adopted without consulting them.

The law has been presented as a way to help Russian IT firms compete with foreign companies and spare consumers from having to download software upon purchasing a new device.

The country’s mobile phone market is dominated by foreign companies including Apple, Samsung and Huawei. The legislation signed by Putin said the government would come up with a list of Russian applications that would need to be installed on the different devices.

Russia has introduced tougher internet laws in recent years, requiring search engines to delete some search results, messaging services to share encryption keys with security services and social networks to store user data on servers in the country.

Russia is also to set up a new online site for its national encyclopaedia after President Vladimir Putin said Wikipedia was unreliable and should be replaced.

The move will ensure people can find “reliable information that is constantly updated on the basis of scientifically verified sources of knowledge,” a government resolution said.

Putin last month proposed replacing the crowd-sourced online encyclopaedia Wikipedia with an electronic version of the Great Russian Encyclopaedia – the successor to the Soviet Union’s main encyclopaedia.

“This, at any rate, would be reliable information offered in a modern form,” Putin said then.

John Lubbock, a communications coordinator for Wikimedia, said it was unclear how Putin actually planned to improve on Wikipedia.

“Russian Wikipedia is the 7th biggest language version of the site, with over 1.5 million articles created by 2.6 million users, all published on Open Licenses,” he wrote on Twitter.

In 2015, Russia briefly blocked the Russian-language version of Wikipedia for an article containing information on cannabis under legislation banning sites with drug-related material.

Moscow has also introduced tougher online controls over the Russian segment of the internet so that it can keep on functioning even if cut off from foreign infrastructure.

The Great Russian Encyclopaedia is already available in a basic electronic format.

The new online portal will cost about 2 billion roubles ($31 million), Sergei Kravets, an editor for the Great Russian Encyclopaedia was quoted as saying on Nov. 21 by TASS news agency.

The government will also set up a national research and education centre for the Great Russian Encyclopaedia, the resolution, signed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, said.

(Reporting by Anton Zverev and Tom Balmforth; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Alex Richardson; Andrew Osborn and Angus MacSwan)

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