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Russia Could Ban Facebook Over Its Data Storage

It looks like Facebook could be in hot water with Russia over the way it stores its data. The country’s communications agency has threatened to block access to the social media website, which is based in the United States and has many data centres in the country, if they refuse to store their data within the country’s borders.

Two years ago, a law came into effect in Russia which meant that any companies that stored data about their citizens had to physically keep that data in the country. It was viewed by many as yet another way for the government to expand their control over the internet. Many freedom activists spoke to technology accompanies across the world, asking them to reject the Russian government demands to let them access their personal data. It would undermine Russian citizen’s cybersecurity, they argued.

Alexander Zharov, the chief of Russia’s Federal Communications Agency, told news agencies that they would work with Facebook to make them comply with the law on personal data. He said that although the government understands that Facebook is a popular service, he stated that it isn’t unique as there are other social media networks out there. Continuing, he said that they would not be making any exceptions and Facebook would be blocked by next year if they don’t comply.

He went on to say that that Roskomnadzor, the communications regulator, had received a letter from Twitter stating that it would comply with the data storage law next year.

Leonid Levin, the chair of the parliamentary committee on communications and information policy, said that he hoped it would not come to Facebook being blocked in Russia, with his desire that the government would be able to come to an agreement with the website.

This would by no means be the first high-profile website that Russia has blocked for failing to meet their data demands. LinkedIn was blocked last year after a court ruled it violated the law. The business networking site is now only available in Russia if accessed through a virtual private network (VPN).

However, even VPNs are being cracked down. Russia’s parliament ruled in July that the use of VPNs or any other proxy services weren’t allowed, apparently because of the concern around spread of extremist materials. Of course, many Russians continue to use VPNs – not to access extremist materials, but just to go on the websites that they’ve suddenly found blocked in the last couple of years.

At the moment, the law has been applied selectively to websites; those larger are more likely to be targeted, since it would be impossible for the government to audit every website which stores Russian citizen’s data.

Interestingly, this warning to Facebook comes less than a week after Mark Zuckerberg announced he would be sharing 3000 adverts that have been linked to Russian companies and their influence on the recent presidential election in the United States. Apparently Facebook has shut down hundreds of fake Russian accounts that purchased these adverts for $100000 and traced them to a Kremlin propaganda agency.


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