Russian authorities have blocked access to LinkedIn after a court ruled that the business networking site had broken local data storage laws.
A Moscow district court decision last week, which went into effect on Friday, said that LinkedIn had failed to observe a 2014 federal law stipulating that internet companies that process the personal data of Russian citizens must store that data on servers located in Russia.
The move marks the first time a social media site has been blocked in Russia. It will see LinkedIn users in Russia gradually lose access as of Friday. In the past, Russia has threatened to block such social media sites as Facebook, but has never done so.
The decision on LinkedIn prompted alarm at the U.S. embassy in Moscow, which expressed concern, with some observers wondering if the decision could set a precedent justifying the blocking of other sites in the country.
"The United States is deeply concerned by Russia's decision to block access to the website LinkedIn," the U.S. Embassy in Moscow told The Hollywood Reporter. "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. We urge Russia to restore access immediately to LinkedIn."
The Embassy added: "We urge Russia to carefully consider the impact of its Data Localization Law, which will be detrimental to Russia's IT industry. Companies should be free to choose where they store their data.
"We will continue to work with LinkedIn and other U.S. companies laboring under this and other anti-competitive and counterproductive market restrictions imposed by the Russian Government to the detriment of the Russian people."
Although none of the other large international social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, or Facebook's WhatsApp service, keep Russian users' data on Russia servers, observers believe the case, brought by Kremlin media watchdog Roskomnadzor, is designed as a warning that could be used to put pressure on those companies, which are much more popular among Russians than LinkedIn, to fall into line.
LinkedIn has around 400 million registered users worldwide, but only 5 million of those are in Russia. Russian authorities claim the site is vulnerable to hacking, pointing to a massive hack in 2012 when 6.4 million usernames and passwords were stolen.
"They have a bad track record: Every year there's a major scandal about the safety of user data," Roskomnadzor spokesman Vadim Ampelonsky told The Moscow Times.
In a statement sent out Friday to registered users in Russia, LinkedIn said it would provide refunds for "unused time" for any paid services. Russian users who choose not to close their accounts are also likely to still be able to access them when outside of Russia.
The move comes at a time when, following Donald Trump's presidential election victory, Russia's relations with the U.S. are looking like they could improve.
Any decision by LinkedIn to comply with the Russian data storage law and restore access to its Russian users is likely to hinge on what Microsoft, which recently agreed to buy the business networking site for $26.2 billion, decides.
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