Has Russia's VKontakte Social Network Betrayed Its Users? Or Is It Under Attack For Defending Them?

from the what's-going-on? dept

We last wrote about the Russian social network site VKontakte, often called “The Facebook of Russia,” a year ago. Since then, lots of bad stuff has been happening in Russia as a part of clampdown on online activity there, and now VKontakte is back in the news, with a pair of rather contradictory stories.

On the one hand, East-West Digital News is reporting that VKontakte has been cooperating with the Russian secret service FSB (successor to the KGB):

Directly implicated is Vkontakte co-founder and CEO Pavel Durov. In what [the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta] alleged was a message from Durov to Vladislav Surkov, a notorious hardliner who was, at that time, the deputy head of then President Medvedev’s administration, Durov mentioned that his site “[has] been cooperating with the FSB and Department K [a section of the Interior Ministry responsible for preventing cybercrime] for several years, promptly disclosing information about thousands of our users in the form of IP addresses, phone numbers, and other data required to pin them down.”

That sounds like a pretty bad betrayal of trust. But in the light of a story published recently in the Guardian, you have to wonder whether false documents are being circulated to blacken VKontakte’s name:

The Russian version of Facebook has had its offices searched and its ownership structure shaken amid fears the Kremlin is looking to tighten its grip on the internet.

A source inside VKontakte said that pressure against the site began after Durov refused to co-operate with the Federal Security Service (FSB) when Moscow erupted in protest.

“A year ago, when the protests started, Durov showed he wasn’t ready to close protest pages,” the source said. “That’s when his problems started.” VKontakte said at the time it had denied an FSB request to shut several pages devoted to opposition groups.

That hardly sounds like a company that is secretly cooperating with the authorities to spy on its users, but does sound more like one that is paying the price for defending them. So until more details emerge, it’s really hard to know what to think here. Probably the most that can be said is that the online world in Russia remains in turmoil, as Vladimir Putin seeks to assert control over any possible channels of dissent.

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Companies: vkontakte

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Comments on “Has Russia's VKontakte Social Network Betrayed Its Users? Or Is It Under Attack For Defending Them?”

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Nullify (profile) says:

Of course they're cooperating

If they weren’t, they’d be shut down. Russia don’t play. The accusations on Durov were started because he refused to hand ownership of the site to the gov’t. That’s how it works there, when something starts making money, you are given an option: sell it for cheap, or get locked up. I’ve lived there long enough to know these things.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Of course they're cooperating

I’m not quite sure about that. It’s one thing to close, say, Diaspora, because they refused to band to Govt pressure to censor something. It’s an entire different thing to close Facebook because they decided not to censor something. The impact is obviously much more intense regarding Facebook and the aftershock developments would be of epic proportions. I’m inclined to believe Vkontakte is to Russia what Facebook is to the US (or Globally).

However the authorities can make the staff lives a living hell without really arresting them or closing down the service. I wonder what’s going to happen now?

Anonymous Coward says:

and who exactly thinks this is only going on in Russia? it’s happening everywhere, most obviously in what are supposed to be ‘Democratic Countries’ like USA, UK, all of EU! it’s spreading and wont stop until there has been serious falling out and probably a war of some sort, where we all get blown to hell and back!

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