Russia has blacklisted popular networking site LinkedIn over its failure to comply with data protection laws. But observers say the move may be an attempt to create a backdoor for Moscow’s intelligence services.
‘This site can't be reached. www.linkedin.com refused to connect.' That's the message greeting users of the popular business networking platform, who attempt to access the site from a Russian IP address. As of today, LinkedIn is the first social network to be blacklisted by Roskomandzor, the Russian government's internet watchdog for failing to comply with Russian data protection laws. But observers in Moscow warn it might not be the last.
The law was passed two years ago and stipulates that international companies dealing in consumer data must relocate their servers to Russian soil. Internet search giant Google has reportedly taken steps to comply with the law, however many social networking stalwarts like Twitter and Facebook and large cloud computing providers have so far resisted the order. Today's blocking of LinkedIn came after a court in Moscow found it in violation of the new laws.
‘We are starting to hear from members in Russia that they can no longer access LinkedIn. Roskomnadzor's action to block LinkedIn denies access to the millions of members we have in Russia and the companies that used LinkedIn to grow their businesses,” said a LinkedIn spokesperson. Company management also confirmed they had requested a meeting with Roskomnadzor to discuss the blacklisting.
LinkedIn small and vulnerable
The US-based professional social networking platform has a relatively small user base in the Russian Federation; with only around 6 million registered accounts. But observers here say that's what attracted the interest of Russian authorities. "It was chosen because it's relatively easy prey - they aren't a big business in Russia” commented Andrei Soldatov, a Russian investigative journalist, "Roskomnadzor needs a success story, and they believe [LinkedIn] could be it.”
Russian authorities claim the country's data protection laws are designed to protect consumer rights in much the same way that the European Union's EU-US Privacy shield agreement is intended to prevent foreign governments from abusing consumer data. However critics in Moscow say accuse the government of using concerns over data protection as a smokescreen. "The goal is not to protect Russians' personal data - far from it, the goal is to get the Russian secret services access to the servers and data of global platforms.” commented Soldatov.
Facebook, Twitter and others could also be affected by the LinkedIn decision
Many foreign companies are believed to have acquiesced to Moscow's demands in secret. And now that LinkedIn's servers are cut off from Russian clients, the pressure is mounting on other foreign-based internet companies to relocate their severs to Russian soil. Deutsche Welle reached out to several notable holdouts including Facebook and Twitter, but so far most effected companies have declined to comment.
LinkedIn parent company Microsoft has also attracted the attention of Roskomandzor. In a statement published on the watchdog's website, Roskomandzor confirmed it had held a working meeting with Microsoft V.P. Steve Crown regarding his companies compliance with Russian data localization laws. Roskomandzor head Alexander Zharov said the matter was closed, indicating the US-based software giant had agreed to move some of it's servers to the Russian federation.
Despite the objections raised by observes in the Russian capital, the Kremlin has been quick to downplay the matter. Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dimitry Peskov downplayed fears the blacklisting could spark a wave of online censorship in Russia saying simply "There are no such concerns.”