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Google forced to end Play Store app sales in Russia

The Google doodle for Russia National Day 2016.
Enlarge / The Google doodle for Russia National Day 2016.

Google no longer offers paid apps or paid app updates to Russian users. A new support page—first spotted by 9to5Google—says, “Google Play is blocking the downloading of paid apps and updates to paid apps in Russia starting May 5, 2022.”

Many companies have voluntarily stopped their business in Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine, but Google makes it clear it’s not voluntarily ending payments in the country. In March, Google said it was forced to “pause” its billing system for users “due to payment system disruption.” (The big four credit card companies voluntarily pulled out of Russia in March over the Ukraine invasion, making it basically impossible for Google to offer paid apps.) Now Google says the blocking of paid apps is “part of our compliance efforts.”

The page says “users cannot purchase apps and games, make subscription payments or conduct any in-app purchases of digital goods using Google Play in Russia.” Free apps will continue to be available, and paid apps you’ve already purchased will still be available for download and use, but any purchases will now show an error message. Subscriptions will not be able to be renewed and will be canceled. Because Google is only dealing with a lack of credit card processing, it says developer payouts to Russian developers will continue.

Google has a blog post recapping its efforts to help Ukraine, but continuing to do business in Russia makes it an outlier in big tech. Microsoft, Apple, Intel, and almost 1,000 other companies have exited Russia, while Google was accused of being “Putin’s Most Compliant U.S. Tech Censor” in a recent Forbes article. One reason Google may be compliant with Russia is that the country has one of the world’s most competitive search markets. Google Search is in second place in Russia, just behind Russia’s biggest tech company, Yandex. If Google leaves or gets kicked out of the country, it risks losing the market entirely.

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