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To Ban or Not to Ban? Facebook's Future in Russia is Uncertain

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Facebook could be 'unfriended' at the federal level by Russia due to its' uncertain policy towards the storage of Russian citizens' personal data. On Tuesday several statements on a possible Facebook ban appeared.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) – Alexander Zharov, head of Russia's communications watchdog Roskomnadzor stated on Tuesday that Facebook will be blocked in Russia if it fails to comply with the law mandating that the personal data of Russian citizens must be stored inside the country.

"The law is obligitory for all. We will either achieve adherence to the law or the company [Facebook] will cease its operations on Russian territory. There are no exceptions here," he told reporters.

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According to Zharov, Facebook continues to respond that it is considering opportunities to comply with the law; however, no official letters have been received from the company.

"On the one hand we are very well aware that Facebook has a significant number of users on the territory of the Russian Federation. On the other hand, we understand that this is not a unique service; there are other social networks. Therefore, we will work to ensure that law number 242 is respected by Facebook… We do not have any plans to check [in on] Facebook on that matter until the end of 2017, but in 2018 we will think about it," Zharov added.

Moreover, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also commented on the possible blocking of the social media website in Russia. He admitted that Facebook is a commercial company, but it has to operate in accordance with Russian laws.

"This is a commercial company, but it has to adhere to Russian law," Peskov told reporters.

In addition, Russian Communications Minister Nikolay Nikiforov also commented that Russian authorities will have no other option but to block Facebook if it does not comply with Russian laws.

"If some company consistently does not comply with the laws, without providing any reasoning, without voicing, for example, the necessity to provide a certain timeframe to carry out some technical activities. In this case, I think the legislator will leave us with no other options but to apply such measures as blocking," Nikiforov told reporters.

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However, Russian presidential adviser on Internet development German Klimenko told Sputnik later on Tuesday that Roskomnadzor has no plans to block Facebook in Russia.

“Actually, these events have a different background, and Roskomnadzor is not planning to shut Facebook down. I called them and asked,” Klimenko said.

In general, the Russian law on personal data storage entered into force on September 1, 2015. It mandates that personal information that is collected about Russian citizens must be stored within the country. According to it, the websites of those who violate this law are subject to being blocked by Roskomnadzor. In November, 2016 this happened to the business networking site LinkedIn. Previously, Zhukov had stated that the social media platforms of several major transnational companies (Google, Apple, Twitter and Facebook) had fulfilled their obligations under the law.

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