Russian censorship

Russia’s internet monitoring agency, Roskomnadzor, warns that today is the first day that laws banning the use of many foreign private messaging apps in the country come into force.

The law is “On information, information technology and information protection”, in particular Part 8-10 of Section 10which prohibits Russian organizations from using information exchange systems belonging to foreign entities.

“The law establishes a prohibition for a number of Russian organizations to use foreign messengers (information systems and computer programs owned by foreigners that are designed and (or) used to exchange messages exclusively between their users, in which the sender determines the recipients of the messages and does not provide for the placement by Internet users of publicly available information on the Internet)” warns Roskomnadzor in a translated alert published today on its portal.

Prohibited services mentioned by Roskomnadzor include the following:

  • Discord – Gaming-focused social VoIP and instant messaging platform based in San Francisco, USA
  • Microsoft Teams – American commercial communication platform.
  • Skype for Business – Microsoft-owned enterprise instant messaging and video conferencing application.
  • Snapchat – American instant messaging application and ephemeral data exchange platform.
  • Telegram – End-to-end encrypted communication app (optional) based in Dubai, again blocked in Russia between April 2018 and June 2020.
  • Threema – End-to-end encrypted secure messaging application based in Switzerland.
  • Viber – VoIP and instant messaging app owned by a Japanese tech conglomerate since 2017.
  • WhatsApp – End-to-end encrypted instant messaging and VoIP application owned by Facebook.
  • WeChat – Chinese instant messaging, social media and mobile payment app.

Interestingly, California-based Zoom, one of the world’s most widely used video conferencing, instant messaging and voice calling platforms, is not on Roskomnadzor’s list. Also, the “Signal” encrypted messaging service is not mentioned in the list.

The Russian state has already required that some of the above products, including Discord and Telegram, remove “misinformation” from their platforms.

However, the current ban does not appear to be an effort to curb the influx of foreign information that could shape local opinion, but rather a precaution to prevent leaks to foreign entities.

Russia is very cautious and actively limits the deployment of foreign software in critical sectors to minimize the risk of sensitive information reaching foreign intelligence.

Last month, the State Duma (the Federal Assembly of Russia) propose the creation of a national VPN (virtual private network) service for those who need a VPN to stay productive while working within the country and to eliminate circumvention of their communications.

The most reliable VPN products were banned in Russia in two waves, the first in January 2020 and a more recent in December 2021.

In September 2022, Russia introduced “domestic software” incentives which promote the use of Russian Linux-based operating systems like Astra Linux, ALT OS and Red OS in government and public service organizations.


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