Putin Signs Law With Potential to Censor Facebook and Twitter in Russia

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In a move that could have major implications for social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law Tuesday strengthening regulations on Internet data storage.

Starting in 2016, the new law will require Internet operators to store Russian user data in centers within the country. Once data is stored on Russian servers, it will be subjected to Russian laws, putting it at risk for censorship, critics say. Companies that don't comply will be blocked from the web

The law is part of a plan to improve "the management of personal data of Russian citizens on computer networks,” Agence France-Presse reported. Critics say it could have a chilling effect on a variety of websites, including Facebook and Twitter, which do not have Russian data centers Read more...

More about Facebook, Twitter, Censorship, Russia, and Internet Freedom

YouTube Files Appeal Against Regulator In Russia Over Content Blocked By New Firewall

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Google this week fired off one of the first high-profile tests of Russia’s controversial new firewall — erected November 1, 2012 to block child porn, drugs and suicide content; but seen by critics as a route for the government to block whatever else it chooses. Google’s YouTube operation in Russia has filed an appeal against the Russian regulator for blocking YouTube content. The appeal, filed on February 11 by YouTube LLC, concerns the blacklisting of a video that showed how to apply Halloween makeup: because it shows how to make a wound, Roscomnadzor (Russia’s consumer watchdog) also deemed that it encouraged suicide and suicidal tendencies. The video is embedded below.

The news of the suit was also reported in the Russian newspaper Vedomosti and the WSJ.

Google’s position is that there is not enough clarification on what kind of content is permitted or not. In this case, a video intended for entertainment has been misinterpreted, it believes. A spokesperson in Russia, Alla Zabrovskaya, provided the following statement to TechCrunch:

“YouTube provides a community where people from around the world can express themselves by sharing videos and being informed. While we support the greatest access to information possible, we will, at times, restrict content on country-specific domains where a nation’s laws require it or if content is found to violate our Community Guidelines. In this case, we have appealed the decision of Russian Consumer Watchdog because we do not believe that the goal of the law was to limit access to videos that are clearly intended to entertain viewers.”

This case is an appeal of an existing ruling to block a video; it’s not a lawsuit and so it does not entail any financial claims over lost revenue, TechCrunch understands.

The situation highlights a problem of Russia’s new firewall: it was erected to block specific pages that violate Russia’s laws, but has apparently it been less nuanced in its actual application. On top of that, when the regulator decides to block one piece of content on a site, the entirety of that IP gets blocked.

While it is appealing the decision, YouTube has taken down the suicide video, but if it had not, then all of YouTube would have been blocked in Russia, TechCrunch understands.

It also underscores the tension that continues to exist in Russia over free speech and government control; and the role that international (Western) giants like Google play in the country’s information and tech economies.

YouTube has been dancing around the Russian regulator’s firewall for months now. Back in November, just weeks after the laws came into effect, YouTube faced a temporary block that was later attributed to a technical error. At the time, this is how Zabrovskaya described it to me:

“There is not much to comment, it was a technical mistake…YouTube was never blocked, it just appeared in the “black list”, and then was deleted almost immediately as the news cycle started.”

But at the time she also sounded a note of warning, which this week is now coming into play with YouTube’s formal suit:

“We have expressed our opinion on the law, underlining that IP or DNS-blocking system is damaging to Internet development in Russia, as these are the ways which could potentially block the entirety of the product (YT or any other UGC-product ) over one piece of illegal content.”

The WSJ reports that there is another company filing a suit against Roscomnadzor, although it doesn’t specify a name or indication whether it is a Russian or international content provider. Other video streaming sites that compete against YouTube in Russia include RuTube and Ivi.ru (the “Hulu of Russia”); both are significantly smaller than YouTube in terms of reach.

We are contacting Roscomnadzor for comment and will update this story as we learn more.


Yandex, Google’s Russian Rival, Is Twitter’s New Real-Time Search Partner

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A significant step for Twitter in its international growth: Yandex, Russia’s search giant, today announced that it will carry Twitter data in all of its search results.

The news also underscores one possible route to revenue generation for Twitter: Yandex describes this as a licensing deal. The terms of it were not disclosed but Microsoft reportedly paid Twitter $30 million for a similar search agreement.

The agreement with Yandex will see Twitter’s data firehose appear both in Yandex’s blog search, as well as through a dedicated URL, twitter.yandex.ru.

The Yandex agreement is similar to the real-time Twitter search that used to be offered by Google — a partnership that ended last year around the time that Google was launching its own Google+ service.

Yandex says it has licensed the “full feed of all public tweets,” covering all languages — but seems to highlight specifically those tweets that are in Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian or Kazakh, covering tweets from more than two million users. People will be able to search by usernames and hashtags, too. In total, Twitter has around 100 million active users, covering some 250 million tweets per day.

This looks like Twitter’s first big deal with a Russian portal, and could point to more local partnerships of its kind — useful for Twitter extending its coverage and usefulness beyond its home market and English.

For Yandex, the Twitter deal gives the search giant — which currently has around 60 percent of the market in Russia — a leg up in its own strategy to do more in social networking: Yandex already offers people Google-like features to share news and other content and this will enhance that.


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