Russia fines US web giants for breaking data storage law

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Russia has fined Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp for not storing Russian user data on local servers, the country’s internet watchdog said Thursday, as authorities crack down on foreign internet companies.

The sanctions come as authorities tighten control over the Russian segment of the internet and after President Vladimir Putin accused Western social media platforms of flouting the country’s laws.

The Tagansky District Court in Moscow fined Facebook ($ 200,000) 15 million rubles and Twitter 17 million rubles for a repeat offense, while WhatsApp was fined four million rubles for a first offense, said Roskomnadzor’s watchdog.

Adopted in 2014, the controversial law requires personal data of Russian users to be stored on national servers.

Twitter and Facebook were first penalized for breaking the law last year, while Google was fined first last month.

Roskomnadzor said Thursday that some companies have started to comply with the legislation, including Apple, Microsoft, LG Electronics, Samsung, PayPal and Booking.com, among others.

In recent months, Russia has increasingly taken legal action against foreign tech giants, in particular for failing to remove content at Roskomnadzor’s request.

During protests in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny in January, authorities accused internet platforms of interfering in the country’s internal affairs by failing to remove messages calling on minors to join the rallies.

Putin complained this month about the growing influence of big tech companies, which he said were in competition with states.

In June, the Russian leader said Western social media platforms were ignoring requests to remove illegal content.

Russia has blocked a number of websites that have refused to cooperate with authorities, including LinkedIn and the Dailymotion video platform.

In recent years, the Russian government has tightened its control over the Internet under the pretext of fighting extremism and protecting minors and has started to develop a so-called “sovereign Internet”.

Kremlin critics denounce official web surveillance as a way to silence dissent.

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