LinkedIn, the social networking site for professionals, is currently blocked from being accessed in Russia, The New York Times reported. The decision was reached after a local court in Russia found LinkedIn to be in violation of their law requiring any service that collects data on Russian Citizens to house that data within Russia’s borders.
Now, Apple and Google have been asked to remove the LinkedIn app from their Russian app stores. While the apps don’t function properly after the LinkedIn website was blocked in Russia anyway, the move to have the apps removed from the app store would show how governments can persuade other companies to abide by their rules. Rebecca MacKinnon, and internet freedom advocate, and co-founder of Global Voices Online, stated that “Apps are the new choke point of free expression.”
This is a turbulent time for such an action to place. A declassified report that was released on Friday stated that American intelligence officials concluded that Putin, the president of Russia, ordered a campaign to influence the 2016 Presidential Election. This included a broad array of activities including cyber activity against individuals that went against their agenda. There have also been accusations, including hacking into accounts like those of the Democratic National Committee.
The law that caused the app removal request, named Federal Law 526-FZ, came into effect on September 1, 2015, and requires all data on Russian citizens, including information obtained when making an online purchase or signing up for a social media account, must reside within Russia. The law was adopted because of what was reported as “increased instances of personal data leakage” and “overall state security issues,” according to Computer Weekly. While matters of security are always an issue in the online world, the law has been criticized as being just a means for the government to have the ability to collect personal data on their citizens who use the services.
While other tech companies, like Facebook and Twitter, currently don’t store user data of Russian citizens within Russia, LinkedIn seems to be the highest profile company to be blocked so far. While the reason LinkedIn was targeted is not clear, it is thought to be a possible warning for the larger services. LinkedIn currently has less than five million Russian users, while it’s entire user base is consists of more than 450 million users worldwide. Microsoft, who now owns LinkedIn, reported stated that they were “disappointed” by the decision to block LinkedIn in Russia. A spokesperson for LinkedIn is quoted as saying that “it denies access to our members in Russia and the companies that use LinkedIn to grow their businesses.”
While criticisms of censorship and regulations have been more apparent lately, other countries are also either implementing new regulations or already have them on their books. Countries like Turkey, Russia, and China have been directly blocking access to websites for years, usually through their ISPs (Internet Service Providers) that are usually state-run. However, trying to force another company to remove their content to further block any access to the blocked services opens up a new can of worms. Apple has also confirmed that it has received a request from China to remove The New York Times app from their China app store. Opponents of these kinds of regulations fear that they will cause fragmentation of communications and of the worldview, causing further division between countries and regions.
Even with all of the criticism over censorship, many American tech companies are working and investing to comply with regulations set around the world. Facebook, as an example, has been working on a censorship tool that they are hoping to allow them access back into the China marketplace where they are currently blocked along with Twitter and Google.
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