Russia’s government wants to hold the biggest US tech companies a little closer. A new regulation, written to enforce a law enacted in July, requires 13 large foreign tech firms to set up shop in the country by Jan. 1 if they haven’t already.
That may sound like a minor bureaucratic mandate, but the syntactically tangled headline on The Register’s story—”Kremlin names the internet giants it will kidnap the Russian staff of if they don’t play ball in future”—isn’t wrong in summing up the threat this decree represents.
The list, released on Nov. 21, names four of the usual US big-tech suspects—Apple, Google, Facebook, and Twitter—as well as the chat platform Discord, video-sharing service Likee, Pinterest, Spotify, Telegram, TikTok, Twist, internet-calling app Viber, and Zoom.
The underlying law compels eligible companies to “create a branch, or open a representative office, or establish a Russian legal entity and ensure the operation of a branch, or a representative office, or a Russian legal entity on the territory of the Russian Federation,” according to a Google-provided translation of that law, listed as 236-FZ.
It follows multiple attempts by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime to outsource its repression of dissent through US tech firms. In the most notable recent episode, Apple and Google—both of which already have the required local presence in the Russian Federation—removed dissident politician Alexei Navalny’s app from their Russian-market app stores in September.
(Android users could theoretically still sideload Navalny’s app, used to coordinate votes against Putin-backed candidates, but Apple’s monopoly over large-scale app distribution leaves iPhone users no such option in Russia.)
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Companies that refuse to comply with Russia’s new rule face penalties ranging from government scolding to being shut out of banking transactions and even blocked nationwide.
Russia represents a more valuable market than other countries considering rules along these lines. (Sorry, Kazakhstan!) But if Microsoft-owned LinkedIn can decide that China isn’t worth the hassle, Russia might not want to assume that every big American tech firm will accept its latest dictate as a ruble-denominated cost of doing business.
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