Russia has blocked access to LinkedIn after the social network became the first major foreign site to be found in violation of a law demanding that the data of Russian users is stored on Russian territory.
The law was passed two years ago, and this is the first time it has been used against a major foreign company. Giants such as Facebook and Twitter have so far resisted moving their servers to Russia despite pressure from the authorities.
A court ruling last week found LinkedIn in violation of the law, and Russia’s communication watchdog, Roskomnadzor, said on Thursday that access to the site would be blocked.
Though the site’s homepage was still working for some users on Thursday afternoon, a spokeswoman for LinkedIn said it had started to hear from members in Russia who were no longer able to access the site.
“Roskomnadzor’s action to block LinkedIn denies access to the millions of members we have in Russia and the companies that use LinkedIn to grow their businesses,” the spokeswoman said.
The website, which has headquarters in the US, has more than 6 million registered users in Russia. The network’s management said it had asked Roskomnadzor for a meeting, which is likely to take place in the coming weeks.
Russian politicians have suggested the purpose of the law is to protect Russian citizens from having their personal data abused by foreign governments.
However, critics have said it is merely a way for the Russian security services to access the data themselves.
Many other foreign companies are believed to have quietly complied with the Kremlin’s demands, but Twitter, Google and Facebook have not done so yet.
The Kremlin said on Thursday that Roskomnadzor’s order was legal and Vladimir Putin did not plan to interfere in the case.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the president, said the Kremlin was not worried the case would stir fears about censorship. “There are no such concerns,” he said.
Andrei Soldatov, co-author of a book about the Russian internet, said targeting LinkedIn could be a first step that would avoid the controversy of going after a real giant such as Facebook.
“They need some success stories to show that it can work. They saw LinkedIn as relatively easy prey, in comparison with bigger companies, and, added to that, they just secured full cooperation with Microsoft,” Soldatov said.
Microsoft agreed a deal to purchase LinkedIn earlier this year.
A statement on Roskomnadzor’s website this week said its head, Alexander Zharov, had held a meeting in Moscow with a Microsoft vice-president, Steve Crown. Microsoft presented the watchdog with a report on its work relocating user data to Russia, and “the issue is now closed”, said Zharov, suggesting Microsoft had agreed to move servers to Russia.