This week, LinkedIn became the first major social network to be blocked by Russian authorities.
In August Russian authorities found LinkedIn to be violation of a law requiring websites to store the data of their Russian users in local servers. Last week, a higher court rejected an appeal from the website. Roskomnadzor, the federal body responsible for regulating the media in Russia, officially ordered public access to LinkedIn to be blocked on Thursday.
"We are starting to hear from members in Russia that they can no longer access LinkedIn," a company spokesperson told TechCrunch. "Roskomnadzor's action to block LinkedIn denies access to the millions of members we have in Russia and the companies that use LinkedIn to grow their businesses. We remain interested in a meeting with Roskomnadzor to discuss their data localization request."
LinkedIn had requested to meet with regulators after the block was upheld, but that meeting has yet to take place. Now, Russian internet service providers must enforce the block or face heavy fines. It is unclear why officials went after LinkedIn specifically, though some have speculated that the block was meant to warn larger sites to comply with digital sovereignty legislation, TechCrunch reports.
The law, which was approved in 2014, requires global internet companies to store the personal data of their Russian users on local servers. Companies must also retain that information for six months, during which time Russian authorities may access it. Noncompliance could result in "administrative penalties" or a possible ban from the country.
If LinkedIn decides to comply with Russia's requirement, it would have a precedent: the company's Chinese-language version, launched in February 2014, which censors politically sensitive content, and does not have some of the tools appearing in its websites elsewhere.
Russian officials say the law was designed to protect citizens' personal data from foreign cyberattacks. But critics say the rule is actually meant to tighten government control over Russian internet users. In 2014, The Christian Science Monitor’s Fred Weir reported:
Critics see the new measures as part of a Kremlin-backed offensive aimed at crushing the last bastions of free speech, and cutting off Russians' remaining connections with the wider world – a charge Moscow supporters say masks the real issue of the West allegedly waging an "information war" to discredit Russian policies.
The Internet data law comes on top of two years of ever-toughening legislation to curb dissent, civil society action, and independent media. Among the fresh wave of laws is one that would limit foreign ownership of any media outlet to 20 percent and a proposal to install a Kremlin-controlled "kill switch" for the Internet, to be employed in the event of crisis.
The LinkedIn block suggests that Russia may enforce internet-related legislation more strictly in the future. Apple and Google have reportedly begun transferring the requisite data to Russian servers. But Facebook and Twitter, which are both still accessible in the country, have yet to specify whether they will comply with the law.
This report includes material from Reuters.