Russian Government Bans Foreign Messaging Apps

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Russian government officials will no longer be able to use messaging apps developed and run by foreign companies, according to a new law which went into force yesterday.

Parts 8–10 of Article 10 of the new law – On Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection – apply to government agencies and organizations.

“The law establishes a ban for a number of Russian organizations on the use of foreign messengers (information systems and computer programs owned by foreign persons that are designed and (or) used for exchanging messages exclusively between their users, in which the sender determines the recipients of messages and does not provide for placement by internet users publicly available information on the internet),” said regulator Roskomnadzor.

The services listed as part of the ban are: Discord, Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, Snapchat, Telegram, Threema, Viber, WhatsApp and WeChat.

It’s by no means an exhaustive list so far, with notable exceptions such as Zoom and Signal, although they may be added in due course.

The restrictions are being placed on government officials presumably in a bid to minimize the chance of sensitive information reaching Ukraine’s allies. US-led intelligence has at times exposed Russian plans during the war, including the initial invasion, in order to minimize the Kremlin’s strategic and geopolitical advantage.

However, the move can also be seen as part of a wider crackdown against foreign technology services in Russia which has been ongoing for years, as the Putin administration seeks to squash dissent and control the media narrative.

It tries to do so via acquiescent state media channels and 24-hour TV propaganda, but younger Russians are more likely to get their news online, which poses a threat to the regime.

Telegram was formally banned in Russia for a time as far back as 2018. The state also currently blocks hundreds of news sites and foreign social networking platforms like Facebook and Instagram. It has also sought to clamp down on the use of VPNs and Tor, which are widely used to circumvent such efforts.

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