Russia raises pressure on Western internet giants, users

By bne IntelliNews September 10, 2015

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In its latest stand-off with Western internet portals and social media giants, Russia's communications regulator Roskomnadzor blocked the video and news service of Yahoo, it said on September 10, after prosecutors ruled that one page containing an Islamic State video was extremist in nature.

Since Yahoo uses the secure https protocol, which doesn't allow a blockage of single pages, all of the company's video and news content was affected by the move.

"We sent eight requests in recent months to Yahoo! to get the content removed," Bloomberg quoted the watchdog's spokesman Vadim Ampelonsky as saying. "They all went unanswered." Yahoo administration deleted the page within three hours of the blocking of its operations.

Not content with content

As tensions with the West escalated over Ukraine snce early 2014, Russian authorities have become increasingly stringent over perceived violations of media regulations by Western internet companies. Citing security issues - especially extremism threats - breaches of laws on drug use, copyright, materials advocating suicide, and other legal infringements, the state has squeezed the operating space of providers, and stepped up registration requirements for bloggers and some other users. The 2012 Russian Internet Restriction Bill also instituted a federal blacklist with individual URLs, domain names, and IP addresses.
In August, Roskomnadzor put social news site Reddit and Wikipedia on the list of banned websites at the request of Federal Drug Control Service, because of articles about the cultivation of narcotic plants. The sites were removed from the list after the content was removed.
In July, the regulator put YouTube on the banned list for copyright infringement, again paralysing all content because of one black-listed page. However, access to YouTube was not restricted in the end as the site administration promptly removed the links to the pirated videos in question.
Careless type costs jobs?
Meanwhile, the Russian Ministry of Communications and Mass Media turned the heat up on use of Yahoo, Google, and WhatsApp on September 10, warning Russian state officials against conducting any work-related activities through these channels that could compromise national security.
"I personally believe that they can do whatever they want, but if they transfer sensitive information, that is unacceptable," communications minister Nikolai Nikiforov said in an interview with Rossiya 24 TV channel.

His comments followed a public apology in September by US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who admitted using her personal unsecured e-mail server for official correspondence while serving as Seceretary of State  from 2009-2013.

Nikiforov added that Russia still cannot fully substitute import software with local solutions, making it impossible to completely ban the use of foreign software by the government.

Problems for foreign internet companies started with a new law on data storage passed on December 31, 2014, which was also supposedly motivated by security concerns. As of September 2015, Internet providers must exclude resources that cannot guarantee storage of Russian clients' data inside Russia. The new regulations already compelled Google, eBay, Paypal, Aliexpress, Samsung and Lenovo to rent data centres in Russia. It was reported earlier that Lenovo, for example, spent $50,000 on transferting its client data.

US tech giant Apple is the latest company to fall in line with the law, Kommersant newspaper reported on September 10, citing unidentified sources. Most major IT companies confirmed their intention to comply with the law but some leaders, including Facebook, have yet to formally state their position. The social network is reluctant to transfer its data to Russia, the Vedomosti business daily reported in August.

Revolutionary tool

Some prominent Russian figures see tougher rules for Western internet companies as an effective tool in the current propaganda war over issues like Ukraine's stance towards Russia and the EU and Nato. Yevgeny Fyodorov, a parliamentarian from the ruling United Russia party, described the Internet as an instrument of "orange interventions", using a Russian term for Western-backed anti-government uprisings.

It was therefore necessary to take such banks of information that could be used against the country "under national control", Fyodorov told Izvestia newspaper in 2014, before the data storage law was passed that year.

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