Russia imposes fine on Google, Meta as deadline passes to open local offices

Google (GOOGL.O) and Facebook owner Meta Platforms Inc (FB.O) are among the internet corporations facing possible sanctions in Russia for failing to build local offices and perform other steps mandated by a communications legislation.

Foreign social media businesses with more than 500,000 daily users have been required to build local offices beginning July 2021, or face harsh limitations, including outright bans, under Russian law signed by President Vladimir Putin.

Roskomnadzor, Russia’s state communications regulator, selected 13 firms it wanted to establish formally on Russian soil in November and announced last month that it would begin applying restrictions by the end of February.

Only a few had completed the task by Monday’s deadline. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia last week has increased pressure on Western firms to retaliate against Putin in whatever manner they can.

Companies must also register with the Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor and have a system in place to handle user complaints, according to the new laws.

Before the war in Ukraine began, Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Spotify Technology SA (SPOT.N) had fully complied, while Rakuten Group Inc’s (4755.T) messaging service Viber had also completed all essential measures, according to Roskomnadzor’s website on Monday.

Six more enterprises complied with at least one policy but lacked a Russian legal entity or local office. According to the government website, the companies were Google, Meta, Twitter Inc (TWTR.N), ByteDance’s TikTok, Zoom Video Communications Inc (ZM.O), and JOYY Inc’s (YY.O) video app Likee.

According to the website, four companies had taken no efforts to comply: chat tool Discord, Amazon.com Inc’s live streaming company Twitch, messaging app Telegram, and bookmarking service Pinterest Inc (PINS.N).

Likee said its application to become a Russian legal organisation, filed on February 16, is being reviewed and that it intends to follow the law. The other 11 corporations did not reply to requests for comment. Twitter declined to comment.

Roskomnadzor announced last month that non-compliant enterprises would no longer be able to sell adverts in Russia. It has previously stated that banning access to the targeted services would be a last resort, with other punishments including data collecting and money transfers being considered.

The rule is part of a larger drive to control the internet, which critics say threatens individual and corporate freedom. In the previous year, Russian authorities have fined social media companies for failing to comply with their demands to block anti-government individuals or material.

Russia has restricted access to Facebook in recent days in retribution for limiting state media services, which opponents claim promote fake news and propaganda. Russia calls its efforts in Ukraine a “special operation.” On mobile devices, Twitter has also been slow to load.

In Russia, demand for virtual private networking (VPN) programmes, which may let users bypass internet restrictions, has increased as a result of the recent crackdown. According to estimates from tracker Sensor Tower, three of the top five most downloaded apps on Apple’s App Store on Monday were VPNs, which generated a combined 383,000 instals over the preceding seven days, 15 times more than the previous seven-day period.

According to research firm Insider Intelligence, Russia, which has a population of around 144 million people, has nearly 51 million Instagram users and 7.5 million Facebook members as of November last year.

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