Russian Lawmakers Question Yandex’s “Strange” Search Results

Russia’s top internet company, Yandex, was scrutinized in the country’s State Duma (lower house of parliament) this week, as deputies raised the question of how the search engine ranks top news stories, The Bell reported.

Lawmakers were interested in how the company, known as “Russia’s Google”, presents news stories, especially when they shed light on unpopular proposals that the national legislature is contemplating, the report said. Deputies are questioning whether the popular “foreign-registered” Internet portal is purposefully trending popular stories to “stir up the social and political situation” inside the country, according to a post published on the Duma’s website on Wednesday.

As a publicly traded company with 80 percent of its shares traded on the New York-based Nasdaq exchange, the Moscow-headquartered Yandex is the latest “foreign” culprit whom Russian officials have accused of outside interference and encouraging public unrest, The Bell writes.

Such allegations have risen to a level that “fake news” is now high on the agenda of an extraordinary Duma meeting that was called for August 19 to discuss “foreign interference” in the upcoming vote to the Moscow city council. The authorities’ decision not to allow certain opposition candidates to run for the local election was the main reason behind mass protests taking place in Russia since July.

Invited Yandex officials will be asked to explain their position “in the near future,” a statement says on the legislature’s website. Yandex is the most popular search engine in Russia and receives millions of visitors a day to its main page.

A story published this week by business newspaper Kommersant prompted the latest attack. It was based on a letter that Alfiya Kogogina, who sits on the Duma’s Committee for Economic Policy and Industry, sent to various ministers about “developing a legislative ban” on the use of old vehicles.

Kommersant’s story — titled The Duma To Consider Banning Old Cars — sparked public outrage and landed in Yandex’s top news of the day. Though the letter did not mention any age limit, roughly 30 million of Russia’s 60 million transport vehicles are more than 10 years old, the newspaper said.

Kommersant quoted Kamaz, one of Russia’s largest truck producers, as saying it supported the ban. Sergei Kogogin, the president of Kamaz, is the husband of Kogogina, the lawmaker from the ruling United Russia who sent the letter, the daily said.

Kogogina told the paper on August 14 that the letter composed by the committee was just a recommendation of the roundtable and not her legislative initiative. She said the recommendation just concerned commercial vehicles, not personal ones.

President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party has seen its popularity nosedive amid the economic stagnation that has pushed some people to protest low living standards.

The party’s Andrei Isyaev complained in the Duma that Kommersant’s story was still atop Yandex’s website later that day even after the Duma and United Russia party came out against the recommendation.

“It looks more than strange,” Isayev said on Wednesday, according to the Duma’s website, pointing out that Yandex is registered outside Russia.“An element of foreign interference may be seen” in Yandex’s methods for posting news, he said.