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Russia to Block Access to Facebook Over Dispute of Data Storage Laws

Tensions have been rising between the United States and Russia – especially on the electronic front. With recent controversy regarding alleged Russian hackers and the latest U.S. presidential election, relations between the two countries aren't exactly great. But in case that wasn't enough, Russian officials also want to ban Facebook from their country unless the U.S.-based company agrees to store data on local servers.

In a recent statement, Roskomnadzor, a communications regulator in Russia, stated: "In the near future Roskomnadzor will plan a series of supervisory activities aimed at analyzing the activities of the administration of Facebook in terms of the processing of Russian users’ personal information, the terms of services for users, and the content of existing legislation."

Targeting Social Media

The demands aren't exactly surprising. President Vladimir Putin signed a 2014 law that, on its face, is meant to collect personal information on all Russian citizens – including their browsing habits. Critics of the new law insist that it is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to monitor, control and even censor Internet usage throughout the entire country.

According to recent statistics, only 14% -- or just over 22 million – Russian citizens currently use Facebook. While some projections see this number rising to nearly 30 million by 2022, Putin's new law could put a damper on any progress.

The law specifically dictates website administrators and operators to: "ensure recording, systematization, accumulation, storage, processing (updating, modification) removal of personal data of Russian citizens by using databases located on the territory of the Russian Federation."

It wouldn't even be the first time a popular social media site got banned in Russia. LinkedIn was blocked in 2016 for their failure to comply with the same 2014 law. Other companies, such as Google and Alibaba, have already complied with the law. Twitter has asked for additional time to assess the economic feasibility of hosting data in Russia.

However, Facebook was at the forefront of the allegations that accused Russian hackers of meddling with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. According to company representatives, nearly six million fake accounts were shutdown in October 2016 alone – many of those were of Russian origin.

Trying to Repair Relations with Russia – or Not

Colin Stretch, general counsel with Facebook, was previously quoted as saying: "The foreign interference we saw is reprehensible and outrageous and opened a new battleground for our company, our industry and our society. We’re determined to prevent it from happening again."

Its remarks like this, as well as the actions taken directly by Facebook and others, that make it difficult for Facebook to maintain a good relationship with the Russian government – even if they do decide to comply with Putin's new law.

While it's anybody's guess as to how this will ultimately play out, it's difficult for some of us to imagine life without social media sites like Facebook. Although we're a nation that is quick to embrace new platforms and breakthroughs, like the transition from MySpace to Facebook that occurred several years ago, it seems that Russians don't have the luxury of switching to the preferred platform – and their choices might become even more narrow in the near future.


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