WeChat, a popular mobile messaging and money transfer service in China, has become the latest social app blocked in Russia, according to the Hong Kong Free Press. Roskomnadzor, the Russian government’s media supervision body, reportedly shut down the app for allowing the transmission of citizens’ personal information without the state’s consent. It is Russian law that such data must be kept within the country’s borders for a limited time and provided to law enforcement if necessary.
WeChat reportedly boasts nearly 900 million users in China, the home of the app’s developer, Tencent. A representative from Tencent apologized for the outage on the company’s website and added the following statement:
“Russian regulations say online service providers have to register with the government, but WeChat doesn’t have the same understanding [of the rules].”
According to a government official, Tencent “did not provide its contact information for the register of information distribution organizations,” leading to the ban. Roskomnadzor reportedly requested that Apple and Google take WeChat down and while awaiting a response, compelled national telecommunications providers to block the app themselves.
WeChat’s trouble in the region follows bans of BlackBerry Messenger and Line last week, similar messaging apps that were cited by Roskomnadzor for the same offenses. But the highest-profile victim of the government’s data regulations would have to be professional social network LinkedIn, which was shut down in the country in November. A year earlier, the executive body threatened to ban Facebook and Twitter for failing to hand over information on Russian users.
According to LinkedIn, the company’s attempts to discuss the issue with Roskomnadzor at the time were repeatedly denied. The federal body reportedly argued that LinkedIn’s lack of physical or managerial presence in Russia contributed to the lack of communication between the sides.
Roskomnadzor was established in its current incarnation in 2008. The law that has resulted in internet-based apps and services being blocked was passed in 2014.
Following the LinkedIn debacle, Maria Olson, a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, tweeted the U.S. was “concerned” by Russia’s decision, saying it established a “troubling precedent to shut down any site with Russia user data.” Over six months later, that precedent appears to have been firmly established.
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