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Russia orders Google, Facebook and Twitter to comply with local storage and censorship laws

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Back in July, Vladimir Putin signed a law requiring all web services handling Russians’ personal data to store that information in local data centers. It was always obvious that this would be a problem for the likes of Google, Facebook and Twitter, which do not use Russian data centers – and so, it has come to pass.

On Friday, Izvestia reported that Russian telecommunications regulator Roskomnadzor has sent the three companies notification that they must register as “organizers of information”, alongside local players like [company]VKontakte[/company], [company][/company] and [company]Yandex[/company]. This means they must store Russians’ data locally, including metadata about Russian users’ communications.

What is more, the companies are reportedly being told to made a decision about their compliance with Russia’s bloggers’ register — Roskomnadzor may demand that bloggers with more than 3,000 regular readers join this register.

This is a full-on censorship move, as those on the register have to abide by the same restrictions as those placed on traditional broadcast and print media. These include the avoidance of “extremist calls”, hate speech, slander and obscene language. The register also compels those on it to fact-check anything they publish before doing so.

It’s not entirely clear what the impact of this would be: would the platforms themselves need to register, or would they have to police popular profiles on their platforms? Either way, if they do not comply with Roskomnadzor’s bloggers’ law and local storage demands, [company]Google[/company], [company]Facebook[/company] and [company]Twitter[/company] face fines and outright blockage in Russia.

To quote The Moscow Times’ English translation of Roskomnadzor deputy chief Maxim Ksenzov’s words: “Those three resources must make a decision about placing their data centers in Russia, and about the law on bloggers.”

The U.S. has decried Russia’s local storage mandate, arguing that the country should not use Edward Snowden’s revelations of U.S. mass surveillance as an excuse to break up the internet. This, of course, could be another effect of the law — if Russian data is stored locally and foreign web services are booted out, it becomes easier to create a separate Russian internet. It should also be noted that the Russian security services have called for Russian data centers to use locally formulated encryption algorithms, which suggests the ability for those security services to decrypt the information stored in these facilities.

I have asked Google, Facebook and Twitter what their reaction will be. So far, only Twitter has responded, declining to comment on the situation.

This article was updated at 1.25am PT to include Twitter’s “no comment”.

12 Responses to “Russia orders Google, Facebook and Twitter to comply with local storage and censorship laws”

  1. official responses:
    Twitter – “Who R U?”
    Google – “Good luck”
    FB – “F U”

    More seriously, this isn’t an unexpected request. Unless these companies have assets in Russia there’s no reason to expect they’ll comply. This move further isolates Russia from the west, which is what Putin and team want.

  2. You are all morons and do not understand international issues. We as the US are hypocrites. Feeling we are the only true Government with all the answers, Europe is nothing more than a socialist society expecting everyone to conform to what they deem correct. Russia on the other hand does what benefits its country in spite of Political push. They will join forces with China and other countries we disagree with because our politicians feel it necessary to expect everyone to conform to our way of life, I say Go Putin, Show the world that Russia is your country and you can do business with others that want to govern as they feel fit.

  3. I would hope that all three will tell Russia that they are welcome to regulate communications in their borders as they see fit, but given such regulations, they have no interest whatsoever in placing infrastructure within those borders.

    If Russian users care, they will circumvent the government blocks fairly trivially.

  4. Just my 2c

    This would be funny if all these sites just stopped service to Russia. Overnight a lot of business would crumble due to the vanishing of ad revenue and communications. Knowing how addicted most teens and young twenty year olds are to social media (never mind new parents) blocking twitter and facebook from young Russians may be the spark to start a revolution ;)

  5. “…avoidance of extremist calls, hate speech, slander and obscene language..” – I suspect the same restrictions are in force in EC and USA. For hate speech you can easily get to jail in Germany, for example.

    • David Meyer

      Not in the US though (well, except for rare cases of defamation). And even in Europe, you’ll only find restrictions on hate speech and defamation. No, the Russian restrictions are much tighter.

  6. What does Russia plan for the World Cup? All media must only reside in Russia? Then Fifa should think again about how they can be hosts when they want that kind of media censorship control.

  7. Arun Iyer

    I don’t think Google has the balls to fight this. I expect Twitter to try, and Facebook to just reject outright. The truth is, Mark Zuckerberg has, over time, been the only one that has not capitulated…

    • I think Facebook cares the less, because their market share is far behind and odnoklassniki.

      Anyway, this is fun :D Go go russia, shoot in the foot, and show your true ugly face! Maybe more young people will open they’re eyes!