A 2014 law was the warning shot: The Kremlin threatened to block any company that stored Russian citizens’ personal data on non-Russian servers. Now, LinkedIn has become the first big name to fall, as a Russian court on Nov. 10 upheld a ruling to ban it from operating in the country.
Russia’s communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor, has investigated 1,500 foreign and local companies since the law was enacted to ensure they are abiding by it. The Kremlin argues the law is aimed at protecting Russians’ personal information, but human rights organizations have linked it to a broad swath of moves (paywall) aimed at increasing censorship online. Legislation put in place following the 2014 law has been described by Human Rights Watch as taking “Big Brother surveillance to a new level.” These include jail sentences for online political expression that might be deemed “extremist” and a requirement of telecoms and internet companies to hand the government any communications information it wants without a court order.
The ruling leaves fellow social network hubs like Facebook, Twitter and Google in a quagmire, similar to one that dogs them in even more restrictive societies like China. Do they accede to draconian laws that contradict their brand philosophies? Or do they lose out on a chunk of global influence and users by refusing to comply? Twitter and Facebook have already rejected several requests by the Russian government to hand over information from individual accounts.
LinkedIn, which has a few million users in the country, told Reuters it is open to meeting with Roskomnadzor to try to find a solution. Failing that, it’s likely to be blocked by the end of next week, a Roskomnadzor spokesman told Interfax news agency.