Russia Bans LinkedIn, Furthering Concerns About Internet Freedom

Russia banned LinkedIn on Thursday, after Microsoft-owned social network failed to comply with the a 2014 law regarding Russian user data collection. The ban was exacted by Roskomnadzor, the government’s communications regulation agency.

Roskomnazdor issued a statement, in Russian, regarding the decision. It cited the original Moscow District Court decision from August to block LinkedIn, as well as the decision made on November 10 in a Moscow City Court, to uphold that decision, according to TechCrunch.

LinkedIn issued a statement to its 467 million users, 5 million of whom reside in Russia, that it was blocked because it stores Russian users’ personal data on foreign servers.

“We are disappointed with this decision, which interferes with professional networking and the pursuit of economic opportunity for many of our Russia-based members,” LinkedIn stated. “Additionally, we believe we are in compliance with all applicable laws, and we are currently evaluating the decision and our options.”

LinkedIn claims its requests to meet with Roskomnadzor to discuss data localization were repeatedly denied. Matthew Kupfer of The Moscow Times reported that, while LinkedIn is breaking a law regarding data storage, other social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp also fail to comply with the 2014 law. There is no indication, however, on whether or not these other social media outlets will soon be blocked as well.

A spokesperson for LinkedIn further elaborated its position in a statement to TechCrunch last week.

“LinkedIn’s vision is to create economic opportunity for the entire global workforce,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “The Russian court’s decision has the potential to deny access to LinkedIn for the millions of members we have in Russia and the companies that use LinkedIn to grow their businesses. We have on Friday again requested a meeting with Roskomnadzor to discuss their data localization request and we understand they are reviewing this proposal at the present time.”

Maria Olson, spokesperson at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, tweeted about the “troubling precedent” of banning a social media network with Russian data.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told Reuters on Thursday that the Kremlin was not concerned that the decision would stir fears of broader censorship in Russia.

“There are no such concerns,” said Peskov.  

Across Twitter, Russians voiced their opinions regarding the ban of the social media professional network. Most were critical of the decision.

This is not the first time the communications regulatory agency has come under fire from international press freedom advocates. In 2014, Russia enacted another law, known colloquially as “the blogger law,” that requires blogs with more than 3,000 unique readers to register with Roskomnadzor, a move that Human Rights Watch called ‘draconian.’ Earlier that year, Russia enacted a law that will allow the Kremlin to block websites indiscriminately.

Storing data in foreign countries is common practice among U.S. tech companies. According to the New York Times, Amazon Web Services has servers in France and Great Britain. Google, which already operates servers in Finland and Belgium, is investing millions in new servers in the Netherlands by the end of this year.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranks Russia 148th on its list of 180 countries on the Global Press Freedom index, and says that Russia has “a stifling atmosphere for independent journalists.” The organization also classifies President Vladimir Putin as a “predator of press freedom.” According to RSF, there is currently less freedom of expression in Russia than at any time since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Russia is just the latest in a list of countries with authoritarian regimes that have cracked down on freedom of expression – including China, Iran, and Vietnam – by banning social media sites. In China, for example, Facebook and Twitter are banned, but Weibo, a social media site based in China is accessible.

Users are likely to continue to use VPNs, which can make the user look like he or she is in another country, in order to access LinkedIn or any other sites that are blocked.

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