Roskomnadzor is applying pressure to social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, to get them to move the data of Russian users to servers located inside the country. The new administrative proceedings might actually lead to a ban on the two services.
Alternatively, the two companies might choose to work with the Russian telecommunications agency, and that might make it unsafe for any citizen of the country to use them. Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is not a solution in this case, especially if the government gets access to the infrastructure directly.
The official site of Roskomnadzor has a statement from the government agency (Google offers a pretty good translation). It explains that Facebook and Twitter have failed to meet the requirements of localizing the databases of Russian users on the servers inside the Russian Federation.
Twitter sent someone to acknowledge the administrative action while Facebook failed to do so. The initial sanctions are rather mild, with fines ranging from 16,000 to 94,000 dollars. Roskomnadzor has not offered any details on when the proceedings might end or on how it plans to convince the social media companies to move their servers. There were rumors in 2019 that the Russian government was considering a full ban for the likes of Facebook and Twitter.
The propaganda arm of the Putin regime has long used both of these social media networks to spread rumors and conspiracies. A full ban might be used by the two services to limit the access of Russian operatives or to delete pages that are associated with the government.
At the moment, LinkedIn is banned in the country, and a number of pages associated with Wikipedia are also restricted in Russia. ProtonMail was recently banned for refusing to conform to demands coming from the government.
The government has also conducted tests designed to evaluate whether it can disconnect its entire network infrastructure from the rest of the Internet. Such a measure could be implemented in case of an emergency or to control various pieces of information.
VPNs Might Soon Become Useless for Accessing Facebook and Twitter
Russia is an authoritarian country that seeks to control what its citizens can access on the open Internet and to track their activity to the fullest. The demand to move servers for Facebook and Twitter inside the country’s borders is another step in the process.
If the personal details linked to these social media websites are physically located on the infrastructure that can be accessed by the authorities, users will no longer have any expectation of privacy.
Many Russian users are already deploying a VPN solution to hide their activity and personal information. This would no longer provide any protection is the companies move their servers.
The makers of ExpressVPN have recently released a report focused on privacy issues, highlighting Russia as one of the countries where citizens have significant worries and need to find ways to protect themselves from tracking. At the moment, VPNs and TOR are reliable solutions for most users.
Both Facebook and Twitter publicly claim that they are focused on keeping users’ private information secure on their servers and will not comply with orders coming from Roskomnadzor. But both companies seem to be willing to make compromises to keep access to particular markets.
There are plenty of countries in the world that want to secure personal information from their citizens and track their Internet moves. Those worried about their privacy should make sure that they choose a good VPN that satisfies their needs, install it and then keep it running every time they access the Internet.