Kremlin offers Silicon Valley a Russian Internet with Chinese characteristics
A new Russian law requires companies to store Russians' data within Russia's borders, out of reach of the NSA, and in reach of Russia's own secret police. It's China all over again, writes Cory Doctorow.
It's the latest development in the tick-tock of two stories: the reactions of the world's governments to the Snowden revelations that the NSA has their entire populations (and leaders) under deep surveillance; and Russia's steady march to a totalitarian Internet that's like Iran's halal Internet, with Putin-authoritarian characteristics.
The Russian law uses copyright enforcement as part of its cover -- something we've seen before, as when Russian cops started seizing the computers of independent newspapers under the rubric of hunting for pirated software, incidentally availing themselves of details of the journalists' confidential sources and notes -- and arrogates to the state the right to issue censorship and disconnection orders for alleged infringement.
The new regime puts Russia in a similar position to China: a huge market for Internet users, with a massive censorship system that can block noncompliant foreign Internet services. In China, this has resulted in companies like Yahoo and Google locating their servers within the grasp of Chinese spies (who used them to hack both the American Internet companies and spy on internal dissidents, prompting Google to eventually leave China), as the only way to get access to the market and compete with homegrown, regime-friendly services.
In the coming months, the major Internet companies will have to decide whether to abandon the Russian market to local competitors, or to locate data-centers on Russian soil and become a de facto instrument of Russia's internal system for spying on and neutralizing the political opposition to the country's authoritarian regime.
Complicating this is the Chinese experience: companies that sold out to China found that the Politburo rewarded their "flexibility" by milking them of their trade secrets and expertise, then went ahead and tipped the scales in favor of Chinese companies whose owners were crony-chummy with China's political elite.
Any selling out for access to the Russian Internet market will likely head down the same road -- a few years' worth of complicity in attacks on gay rights activists, a few years' worth of helping to imprison people who use curse words (but only if they're the sort of people the Kremlin needs an excuse to jail) -- only to find your company eventually given the boot under one of the same Kafkaesque excuses, its servers seized, and a locally run business like Yandex or Vkontakte getting your market-share.
Speaking of Vkontakte -- the "Russian Facebook" -- remember that the site's founder Pavel Durov was apparently forced to sell his stake in the company earlier this year, after taking part in anti-Putin rallies. The new owner is a Kremlin-affiliated oligarch whose fortune was kickstarted by fire-sale-priced access to media assets seized from another oligarch who'd fallen out of Kremlin-favor.
In its way, this is a perfect microcosm for the ideological bankruptcy of contemporary business ethics: companies chasing short-term profits through access to "emerging" markets get into favor by participating in surveillance and censorship, by helping the state spy on, imprison and torture their users, by helping to control pro-democracy movements by shaping the public perception of media events -- then, after a few years, they're tossed out anyway.
I wish I was more hopeful about this, but I fear that all the lessons from Silicon Valley's Chinese experience will be deliberately forgotten in the pursuit of Russian users.
(Images: Kremlin, Harry Popoff, CC-BY; Vladimir Putin Red Square - That's My Boy!! Хорошо, молодец!!!, IoSonoUnaFotoCamera, CC-BY-SA)
Dyson Logos’s G+ account is an endlessly scrolling inventory of hand-drawn D&D maps, each one cooler than the last.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation just filed comments with the FDA in its embedded device cybersecurity docket, warning the agency that manufacturers have abused the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, threatening security researchers with lawsuits if they came forward with embarrassing news about defects in the manufacturers’ products.
Atari was once a giant of video game innovation, but now it’s a troll — a company that produces nothing except legal threats — and its latest project is to get the US Patent and Trademark Office to give it the right to decide who can make haunted house games, and charge the lucky few […]
Isn’t it about time to stretch what your Mac can do? I mean, you’ve got plenty of great programs now…but don’t you think you could use some new tools to get your creative, analytical and organizational juices really flowing? It’s spring, so we cleaned up a whole bunch of super-cool apps lying around and packaged […]
In the world of app development, there’s no greater arena to find success than with Android users. About 80% of the smartphones in use today worldwide operate on the Android operating system, so if you build a great app that Android users love, you’re an international rock star. You’ll be able to make sure your […]
Unless you’re a programmer or webmaster, the term SQL probably doesn’t mean much to you. But for those looking to understand more about how and why the web works the way that it does, know this – SQL and its process of managing and presenting large data sets is everywhere…and it’s the most in-demand programming […]