Russia clamps down on internet giants

By bne IntelliNews May 20, 2015

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Russia’s media watchdog has warned Facebook, Twitter and Google that they will be liable to fines and suspensions if they continue to violate national legislation on extremist content and providing user data, Izvestia newspaper reported on May 20.

Measures available under the law include "fines and blocking pages with illegal content", Roscomnadzor head Alexander Zharov wrote in letters sent to chief executives of the companies on May 18.

Recipients of the letters included Thomas Kristensen, Facebook's director for public policy, Nordics, Central & Eastern Europe and Russia, and  Sinead McSweeney, Twitter's director of public policy for Europe, Middle East and Africa, as well as Google CEO Larry Page.

Roscomnadzor spokesman Vadim Ampelonsky confirmed to the newspaper that the letters were sent and said he hoped the warnings would prompt swift compliance by the companies.

"Letters of this kind have become standard practice in our communication with foreign internet companies," Ampelonsky was quoted as saying. "Usually the dispatch of such letters brings about certain progress in communication."

In an earlier batch of  letters sent on May 6, Roscomnadzor deputy head Maxim Ksendzov said the three companies had failed to comply with Russia's law on bloggers by not providing information on daily views of some users’ pages. They also did not supply data needed to identify owners of accounts with more than 3,000 daily visitors. 

The watchdog demanded that Twitter, Facebook and Google also delete content that "contains calls for mass unrest [or] carrying out extremist activities" or calls to attend unauthorised rallies, the newspaper reported.

Because of growing state control over Russia's media, opposition leaders often use social media to voice their opinions and organise rallies and demonstrations.

Under Russia's code of administrative offences, legal entities that refuse to provide user information face a fine of up to RUB300,000 ($6,000) or RUB500,000 ($10,000) for a repeated violation or an "administrative suspension of activities for up to 30 days".

In December, Google decided to transfer engineering operations out of Russia. The move followed the souring of relations between Russia and the US and Europe over Russia's annexation of Crimea and intervention in Eastern Ukraine. Russia simultaneously introduced new rules requiring global technology companies to store more data locally.

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