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American officials ‘concerned’ by Russia’s decision to block LinkedIn

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The United States government is troubled by Russia’s ban on LinkedIn, claiming it creates a precedent that could be used to target other Western sites operating in the country.

LinkedIn is currently inaccessible in Russia following a block on the business-oriented social network by the country’s communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor. The move to ban the platform comes in the wake of a court ruling that found LinkedIn in violation of a local data regulation. The federal law, enacted in 2014, dictates online firms that deal with the personal information of Russian citizens store the data within the country.

Maria Olson, a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, tweeted the U.S. is “concerned” by Russia’s decision. The statement was attributed to Catherine A. NovelliUnder Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment.

Olson elaborated upon the tweet, telling Reuters: “This decision is the first of its kind and sets a troubling precedent that could be used to justify shutting down any website that contains Russian user data.”

On Thursday, a spokesperson for the Kremlin told Reuters that Roskomnadzor’s decision to block LinkedIn would not be opposed by Vladimir Putin’s government.

Roskomnadzor previously stated its decision to seek out an injunction against LinkedIn stemmed from concerns over the site’s bad track record with user data, citing its 2012 data breach that came to light earlier in 2016. Coincidentally, the hacker suspected of carrying out the cyberattack is of Russian origin. The FBI and Czech law enforcement partnered to arrest the individual in October.

LinkedIn claims its efforts to meet with Roskomnadzor to discuss its data localization request have repeatedly been rejected. The company has confirmed in a statement that users in Russia are reporting they can no longer access its service.

Considering it only has 5 million users in the country, out of a total of 450 million registered members worldwide, the decision will not amount to a major setback for LinkedIn. However, it may be more damaging for its soon-to-be parent company, Microsoft, itself an investor and technology solutions provider to the country. The writing may have been on the wall in September when Moscow’s city government announced it was ditching Outlook for a local office software provider. Russian President Vladimir Putin has been urging the country’s civil service to ditch foreign technology companies in reaction to the sanctions placed on Russia by the west in 2014 over its involvement in the conflict in Ukraine.

Consequently, the clampdown on the enterprise network could also be viewed as a warning to other western social media firms that are not currently abiding by the rules. However, local analysts and activists claim the “unenforceable” law is being unfairly used to discipline LinkedIn, reports The Moscow Times. The argument is given credence by the fact that neither Facebook nor WhatsApp store data in the country. Unable to crackdown on popular platforms in fear of a public backlash, the government is singling out the lesser-used service.

Its rivals also boast better relations with Roskomnadzor, courtesy of their company representatives stationed in Russia. LinkedIn does not have a physical presence in the region, resulting in a breakdown in communication, according to the media watchdog.

This is not the first time Putin’s government has tried to block social media sites. Last year, it threatened to ban Facebook and Twitter if they did not hand over data on Russian bloggers, who must be registered with Roskomnadzor under Russian law.

Updated on 11-18-2016 by Saqib Shah: Added news of U.S. statement on Russia’s LinkedIn ban.

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