from the easier-said-than-done dept
Techdirt has been reporting for a while the efforts of the Russian government to bring the Internet there under control. It now seems that it is taking a new approach: as well as banning or criminalizing activities it doesn't like, it wants to compete with them directly. Specifically, it plans to fund a new Russian search engine, called "Sputnik", named after the first artificial satellite, put into space by the Russians in 1957. According to an article in the news magazine "Der Spiegel" (original in German), this is designed to address two problems at once.
The first is the risk that Russia's leading search engine, Yandex, might fall into hostile hands. Yandex currently holds 60% of the Russian search engine market, and makes a healthy $400 million profit on revenue of $1 billion, and so would be a tempting target for a take-over. The danger for the Russian government is that it might go to someone hostile to their policies. In fact, Yandex has already proved something of a thorn in the Russian government's side, since it has not only supported opposition figures on several occasions, but it has the habit of linking to foreign sites that contradict the official line.
That's the second problem that Sputnik is designed to solve. The hope seems to be that in time it will become one of the main sources of information for Russians when they go online, and allow the government to ensure that no inconvenient facts are served up when they search on sensitive subjects.
Of course, it's one thing to talk about launching a search engine that will take on Yandex and Google (which currently holds around 26% of the market), and quite another to deliver. As Techdirt reported back in 2006, similar plans by the French government to set up its own search engine soon fizzled out. The article in Der Spiegel talks of the Russian government providing around $20 million dollars to fund the new project, and notes that this seems far too little to take on Yandex with its 3,500 employees. As well as a large workforce, Yandex also has a healthy bank balance thanks to an earlier flotation on the New York Stock Exchange that brought it an extra $1.3 billion to bolster its already considerable resources.