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Russian officials blocked an opposition website that commits the same ‘privacy violations’ as the country's parliament, ruling political party, and state news media

Meduza

Alexander Litreev, a Russian cybersecurity expert and the founder and director of “Vee Security,” has formally asked Russia’s federal censor to block the websites of the State Duma, the political party United Russia, and the news outlet Vesti.ru (a joint project by the state television networks Rossiya 1 and Rossiya 24). Litreev addressed his appeal to Alexander Zharov, the head of Roskomnadzor, arguing that the websites violate Russian privacy laws in the same ways that recently resulted in the blocking of Alexey Navalny’s “Smart Vote” project.

Moscow Tagansky District Court formally blocked “Smart Vote” on December 19. According to Roskomnadzor, the website 2019.vote violated Russia’s privacy regulations and abused Google Analytics and Yandex Metrics. Officials say Navalny’s team needs to notify users when collecting any personal information, obtaining their consent and providing them with a “published document that states a privacy policy.” In court on December 19, Navalny's representatives acknowledged that Smart Vote might have initially violated Russia's privacy requirements, but argued that the website now features a transparent data-collection agreement and statement of terms.

Litreev discovered that the websites for the State Duma, United Russia, and Vesti.ru all use Yandex Metrics — all without asking users for consent to process their personal data. In his appeal to Roskomnadzor, Litreev also argues that these websites offer no privacy policies. While he’s wrong about United Russia’s policy, Litreev correctly notes that the party’s website shares Russians’ personal data with a foreign third party located overseas: the site has hidden Facebook code that’s used to collect personalized statistics and analytics. Just this month, Roskomnadzor threatened to fine Facebook for refusing to store Russian users’ data inside Russia.

Responding to the court’s decision to block “Smart Voter,” Alexey Navalny has pointed out that the rationale used to justify the ruling would support blocking any website that uses Google Analytics or Yandex Metrics. At the time of this writing, neither Roskomnadzor, United Russia, the State Duma, nor Vesti.ru had commented on Litreev’s allegations.

Text by Alexander Baklanov

Translation by Kevin Rothrock