Russia has given China a taste of its own medicine by blocking China’s most popular social media app for failing to properly comply with regulations.
As of Friday, WeChat has been added to Russian communications watchdog Roskomnadzor’s list of prohibited websites. According to a spokesman for the regulator, WeChat was blocked over not providing contact details for Russia’s register of “organizers of information distribution on the internet.”
Developed by Tencent Holdings, WeChat is China’s most popular messaging service, boasting 927 million active users worldwide (though few in Russia). On Saturday, the Shenzhen-based tech giant said that it was “deeply sorry” that its app had been blocked and that it was discussing how to solve the matter with Russian authorities, adding that it had had a “different understanding” of the rules.
The situation is more than a little ironic. In recent years, WeChat has become China’s favorite social media app partly due to lack of competition from abroad. China’s own telecoms watchdog blocks a number of international networking apps, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Snapchat, Line and Pinterest for similarly vague reasons. Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping has long been a vocal proponent of “cyber sovereignty” for all nations and China has even reportedly been helping Russia with its own “Great Firewall.”
While Roskomnadzor may claim that WeChat was blocked over its failure to register contact details, it seems more likely that the Chinese app was actually blocked instead over a different violation of the regulator’s code which requires that all foreign internet companies store Russian user data on servers inside of Russia (China also imposes this same rule). Last year, Russian authorities blocked LinkedIn for violating this rule.
Meanwhile, Chinese state media reports that the ban has “triggered wide complaints from the Chinese living in Russia, who said it has affected their daily life and work.” Boy, that sounds awful.
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