By Marina Romanova
Since Friday, November 17 LinkedIn is officially blocked for around 6 million Russians, who have accounts in the world’s largest job searching engine. Russia’s Roskomnadzor communications watchdog, told Interfax news agency on Thursday that the website would be blocked within 24 hours, and a number of Internet service providers appeared to have immediately begun blocking the website, according to media reports.
LinkedIn, which has its headquarters in the United States, is the first major social network to be blocked by Russian authorities, setting a precedent for the way foreign Internet firms operate.
The regulator’s brief statement on Roskomnadzor’s website confirms that LinkedIn hasn’t been able to satisfy Russia that it complies with laws requiring personal data to be stored on Russian soil.
According to the law “On Personal Data,” any Russian or foreign company working with Russian users must ensure recording, systematization, accumulation, storage and clarification of personal data of Russians using databases on Russian territory. The law on personal data storage came into effect in September 2015.
Russian and international media are citing the original Moscow Tagansky District Court decision from August 2016 to block LinkedIn, along with the more recent case from November 10, in a Moscow City Court, to uphold that decision.
The business world is not impressed, but Russian authorities insist LinkedIn is no big deal.
Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets, for example, claimed the disappearance of LinkedIn from the Russian Internet would not impact on the country’s labor market.
After the court decision Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denounced allegations that banning LinkedIn is a next move towards censorship in Russia. “Roskomnadzor was acting according to the law,” he said.
Some observers think LinkedIn was selectively banned by Russia watchdog to improve its negotiating position on data localization with other companies.
According to David Homak, an IT entrepreneur and software engineer, “defenseless position of LinkedIn makes it a perfect target.” “Roskomnadzor won’t get scolding from above for banning LinkedIn, it’s not that popular in Russia,” he said to The Moscow Times.
“The aim of this law is to create . . . (another) quasi-legal pretext to close Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and all other services,” Internet expert and blogger Anton Nossik told Reuters back in 2014, when personal data law came into effect.
Others were concerned that storing information about users on Russian soil would allow authorities to target opposition leaders and protesters. “The aim is surveillance, obviously — to make servers of the companies accessible to the Russian national system of online surveillance, and also to get the Internet giants effectively landed in Russia,” Andrei Soldatov told WorldViews in an email.
LinkedIn, which is being acquired by Microsoft for US$26 billion, said it was aware that users couldn’t access the site. The company has confirmed the block in a statement to media, saying that the company “remain interested in a meeting with Roskomnadzor to discuss their data localization request.”
Microsoft itself is under investigation by the Federal Antimonopoly Service in Russia, which has accused it of abusing its dominant market position. Earlier this month, Microsoft accused a Russian-linked group of exploiting a security flaw in its Windows operating system.
Soon after the Moscow City Court ruling banned LinkedIn, U.S. government shared its deep concern, saying it created a precedent that could be used to justify blocking other sites operating in Russia.
“This decision is the first of its kind and sets a troubling precedent that could be used to justify shutting down any website that contains Russian user data,” Maria Olson, spokeswoman at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, told Reuters.
Matthew Hammond, chief financial officer of London-listed Mail.ru, which runs some of Russia’s most popular Internet services, said there are likely to be further actions against non-compliant firms.
“Will the Russia government enforce it more widely? I don’t know. It seems a reasonable assumption that it probably will,” Hammond told investors at the Morgan Stanley European Tech, Media and Telecom conference in Barcelona last week.
The ban on LinkedIn will hurt Russian job seekers as much as recruiters, says Anna Imas, former general director at Job.ru, one of Russia’s largest job search engines. “We have been building many of our business relations via LinkedIn, and it will be sad if it gets blocked eventually,” she said to The Moscow Times.
“This will be a real blow to the industry,” Yevgeniya Dvorskaya, the founder of JungleJobs, a Russian search engine that connects recruiters with companies, told reporters. What makes LinkedIn so valuable for recruiters around the world is it’s easy to use resume database and social network function. Unlike conventional job search sites, it has extensive search settings. Most of its functions do not require paid subscription, which is a key element for job seekers from Russia, hit by ongoing financial crisis.
Meanwhile some Russian independent media, like Meduza.io already published links explaining to LinkedIn users how they can unlock the block.