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Facebook and Twitter sued over Russian data storage dispute

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According to a report from the RIA news agency, the Tagansky District Court in Moscow has fined the social media giants tens of thousands of pounds each for refusing to store Russian users’ data on Russian servers.

Although the companies will absorb the four million rouble (£48,000) fines without any significant damage to their bottom line, they represent the largest penalties imposed on Silicon Valley companies under recent internet use regulations.

Since 2012, the Kremlin has been engaged in a crackdown on internet freedom, such as by experimenting with isolation of the Russian internet from the wider internet for cyber-security purposes, requiring phones sold in Russia to have Russian software pre-installed (a policy which will come into force in July), requiring companies to store data gathered from Russian users on servers within the country.

Companies like Google and Facebook have refused to store their precious troves of data on servers housed in Russia, while the Russian internet regulator (Roskomnadzor) has tried repeatedly to force their hands.

The four million rouble fines were an increase on much smaller fines issued last year, equivalent to approximately £35 each. According to Roskomnadzor, if Facebook and Twitter do not comply with the court ruling to move their Russian user data to Russian servers by the end of the year they will be fined 18 million roubles (£217,000) each. If Facebook and Twitter continue to resist regulatory pressure, it is technically possible that their services will be banned in Russia, although their popularity make this unlikely in practice.

So far, LinkedIn is the only major social network to have been banned in Russia for refusing to comply with these regulations.

Countries around the world have been beginning to introduce tougher internet regulations to try to prevent harm done online, such as through the proliferation of extremist user-generated content or misuse of personal data. The UK government is preparing to roll out legislation to give internet companies which host user-generated content statutory duty of care to its users, answering to Ofcom. This could result in social media companies being fined significant sums for failing to remove harmful content from their platforms in a timely manner.

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