RuNet 2014: Top 10 Trends on the Russian Internet (Part II)


 (The first part of the article is available in the previous entry in the PIR Center blog). 

5. The consolidation of the three key Russian social networks (Odnoklassniki, Moy Mir and VK) in single hands after Group bought 48% of VK from UCP in September 2014 is good news for the anti-piracy campaign in Russia. The anti-piracy law 187-FZ, branded ‘Russian SOPA’, passed in June 2013 to allow pre-court blocking of web-sites with unlawfully uploaded video-content (films, TV-series etc), was extended in summer 2014. Amendments to this law were passed in the second reading including all content uploaded in violation of copyright (music, software, books etc), except photos. The mechanism of restricting the access to the web-resource is now extended to embrace resources which publish links to the illegal content. Also if a web-resource is found in repeated violation of copyright (e.g. torrents) the whole web-site can be blacklisted and blocked through a law suit and a subsequent court decision even if the content if removed. Another amendment removes the point on uploading pirate content “for lucrative purposes” which means that potentially any citizen posting such content or links to it online could be fined even if they don’t benefit financially from piracy.

The rigor of this initiative leaves a lot of doubts about its operability. It is, however, instrumental for the work being done for a major clean-up in the key Russian social networks – Odnoklassniki, Moy Mir and VK, the latter being seen as the ultimate resource of illegal copyright content. Pavel Durov, the founder and ex-owner of the social network, who was gradually pushed out of the business and the country as a result of what was seen as a non-constructive relationship with the authorities, was also known for his lax position on copyright infringement., the now owner of the company, is set to continue the fight against piracy and in particular has asked the US regulator not to include VK into its Special 301 Report of copyright infringers.

An even farther going suggestion voiced by Nikita Mikhalkov, head of the Russian Union of Rights-Holders, and one of the best known Russian cinema directors, envisages the introduction of a global license on virtually any content in the RuNet. This would mean that web-operators will pay a lump-sum amount to the rights-holders and the users will enjoy unlimited access to copyright content online. Given the near zero support to the idea across stakeholder groups, its fate is still unclear. However, further efforts at fighting illegal content are sure to be devised. But there might be more potential and tangible results in finding ways to focus on capitalising on easily accessible legal pay content as well as developing the culture of legal content consumption.

6The recognition of the so-called ‘right to be forgotten’ by the European Court of Justice which allows the EU citizens to ask Google (whose search engine controls about 90%of the European market) to remove from its search results the outdated information, has arguably marked a precedent set to expand. Since launching the web-form for the related requests in May, 188,852 requests have been received at the moment on writing filed for 683,968 URLs, as Google indicates in the new section of its Transparency Report. Now as Microsoft and Yahoo are joining the effort, the EU authorities are launching a new debate on extending the ruling for the non-European - domain too. This precedent would be interesting in the Russian context as the Roskomnadzor officials have voiced a few times their interest in putting similar pressure on Google for the Russian users. Given that Google’s share of the search market has grown from 26% in 2012 to over 32% in 2014, this is not surprising. The launch of a ‘secure’ national search engine and information hub ‘Sputnik’ in May 2014 gives a hint that further regulation might follow to make it more competitive against such giants as Yandex and Google.

7. Another global debate of the year placed in the US and closely followed by elsewhere in the world is the heavy blow delivered to the net neutrality principle as a US appeals court in January put a lid on the earlier FCC ruling that ISPs should treat all traffic on their networks equally. It thus allowed providers to raise the pay bar for heavy traffic owners and arrange “commercially reasonable deals”. The decision caused a massive push back from various communities amounting to about 4 million comments to the FCC, and President Obama is now personally pushing for the return to the net neutrality principles. Meanwhile the Russian Federal Anti-Monopoly Agency is currently studying the possibilities of introducing various traffic management schemes for the Russian ISPs, ironically citing the US experience as a best practice. It was previously suggested that the OTT services are to blame for the network overload giving the rationale for traffic management tools. More probably the end aim is not a better bandwidth and speed but rather sweeping OTTs (mostly belonging to the foreign players) under the Russian jurisdiction and therefore requirements of cooperation with investigative agencies existing for traditional telcos.

8. The year 2014 has seen a further interest to cryptocurrencies, especially bitcoin. In fact despite the lack of a unified regulatory approach to the phenomenon in the world and a perceived threat to the centralized banking infrastructures, there are some signs of its slow integration into the system. For example, Microsoft has recently started working with bitcoin following Dell, Expedia, PayPal, and Black Friday sales reveal a growing share of bitcoin deals. A bill put forward by the Russian Ministry of Finance suggests fines for bitcoin use and promotion as a ‘monetary surrogate’ prohibited by law. It was preceded by suggestions of introducing criminal offense for bitcoin use, but for now the authorities seem to have opted for a milder and exploratory position. However, given the ongoing creation of the national payment system as an alternative to the monopolists Visa and MasterCard at times when national security tops the agenda, bitcoin and similar rivals will certainly remain on the regulatory radar and at a safe distance.

9. Federal Law 97-FZ, known as the ‘law on bloggers’, which equals bloggers with 3000+ followers to media, inter alia envisages that organisers of information dissemination (OIDs) store for at least 6 months and provide to the empowered agencies information on user metadata. RosComNadzor runs a registry of these operators which so far counts with less than 200 entries and the regulator seems to be struggling to populate it. Apart from the expected chilling effect of the law on the online public sphere, it represents another step in communications and data control by the authorities. And coupled with the data localisation law certainly gives a boost to the data storage industry in Russia.

To be fair, Russia is not alone in such aspirations even among western democracies. The DRIPA law in UK, hastily passed in July without any meaningful public consultation to maintain the special services’ data retention and surveillance capacities previously denied by the European Court of Justice, fits the same trend. Moreover, more recent counter-terrorism bill among other measures contains a requirement that ISPs and telcos retain more detailed records which would show which individuals used particular IP addresses for online communications for 12 months. This is seen at home as a ghost of the notorious Communications Data Bill, or Snoopers’ Charter, pushed off the agenda by Snowden’s evidence against the British GCHQ collaboration with NSA. Thus further anti-terrorist efforts in cyber-space can be expected in future and not only from Russia.

10. Edward Snowden certainly drew attention to the issue of communications privacy, and secure messengers apps, the like of Telegram by Durov, or Firechat, the highlight of this year’s Hong Kong protests, or Sicher, mark the growing user demand for data and communications privacy online and offline. Efforts by Google and Apple to step up default end-to-end encryption have met indignation and promise of action by FBI. This tug of war over user data is here to stay and its outcome in many ways depends on the architecture of governance mechanisms in a given community.

The broader cyber-security agenda has also been on the rise in 2014 highlighting Russia as one of the key markets for cyber-criminals. The threat of cyber war-fare has been in highlight across sectors given the tense geopolitical situation in Europe. The recent apparent cyber-attack exchange between the US and North Korea provides a good taster of what sort of military stand-off we seem to be in for in future. Against this background new strategic cyber-security partnerships, such as the treaty signed off with China, set a clear trend for the years to come. It is also expected that more weight will be thrown with the broader BRICS format for a range of foreign policy issues including internet governance and cybersecurity.

All of the mentioned events could be described in the mentioned above Internet fragmentation tendency while in essence they reveal the continuing ‘customization’ of the Internet, whereby the one fit all principle is increasingly hard to apply. In the long run, various instances of regulatory interference across the world might well result in a patchwork of the Internets. The current defensive agenda is currently stimulating this trend in Russia making the ‘coming of age’ a painful experience for RuNet.


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