Russia Wants to Ban Facebook Unless It Stores Data on Country's Servers

Russia is checking whether Facebook is in compliance with its law requiring websites to store citizens’ data on servers within the country—otherwise, it will ban the social network.

Roskomnadzor, Russia's communications regulator, announced the checkup plans on Wednesday, following up its September announcement that it would block Facebook starting next year if it fails to abide by the Russian law.

“In the near future Roskomnadzor will plan a series of supervisory activities aimed at analyzing the activities of the administration of Facebook in terms of the processing of Russian users’ personal information, the terms of services for users, and the content of existing legislation,” the regulator said in a statement carried by the Interfax news agency and reported by Reuters.

Russian officials have said that the law, signed by President Vladimir Putin in 2014, is designed to protect the personal information of its citizens. But critics call it an attack on social media and the latest move by the country to censor and control Internet usage.

The law states that website operators should “ensure recording, systematization, accumulation, storage, processing (updating, modification) removal of personal data of Russian citizens by using databases located on the territory of the Russian Federation.”

Only about 14 percent—22.6 million of Russia’s 144.3 million people in 2016—were on Facebook, according to Statista. The statistics company identified 23.2 million Russian Facebook users this year and forecasts the figure to reach 28.9 million in 2022.

By contrast, the Russia-based social networking service VKontakte had 55.7 million users in the country at the end of 2014, the last year Statista tracked the figures. 

Roskomnadzor blocked LinkedIn last year in accordance with a court ruling that the networking site was violating Russia’s data storage law. Russian officials and LinkedIn Corp. have not yet reached an agreement that would give citizens access to the site again.

Companies including Google and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. have complied, while Twitter asked for extra time to look into the economic feasibility of making the shift.

The check on Facebook comes shortly after the social network along with Twitter and Google testified before U.S. Congress to explain how and why they failed to keep Russians from exploiting their platforms and using fake accounts to spread false information leading up to the 2016 presidential election.

Facebook representatives told U.S. lawmakers that 80,000 posts from 470 fake Russian accounts disseminated information on its network and that it shut down 5.8 million fake accounts in October 2016.

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