One week after access to WeChat, China's most popular social media app, was cut off in Russia for failure to comply with recently introduced information laws, the app is now available and back online.
On May 5 2017 Roskomnadzor – the Russian state body responsible for supervising communications and media – added WeChat to the list of blocked websites. Roskomnadzor’s stated grounds for blocking WeChat was its failure to provide the contact details required for recordal on the Register of Information Dissemination Organisers.
WeChat is a popular messenger application developed by tech giant Tencent Holdings, and has more than 800 million active users per month. The app is considered to be one of the most commercially successful platforms in the app market, as it provides its users with not only a messaging service, but also a means to pay bills, purchase goods and create commercial accounts for business purposes.
It is not the first time that a web-based service has been blocked in Russia. Recently, LinkedIn and Pornhub were both blocked, but these were shut down for a breach of personal data storage requirements (LinkedIn – for further details please see "LinkedIn unlinked in Russia") and alleged dissemination of prohibited information (Pornhub).
Since 2014 Roskomnadzor has maintained the Register of Information Dissemination Organisers under the Law on Information, Information Technologies and Protection of Information (Federal Law 149 FZ). Article 10.1 of the law defines an 'information dissemination organiser' on the Internet as a person or entity providing informational systems or software aimed at or used for receiving, transferring, delivering or processing users' electronic messages on the Internet. Since the definition is broad, any online service which enables its users to communicate with each other will fall within the definition of an 'information dissemination organiser', including mobile messenger apps and social media platforms.
Under Article 10.1(2) of the law, an online information dissemination organiser must:
- notify Roskomnadzor about its activities and provide information for recordal on the register;
- store metadata of its users for six months; and
- ensure compliance with the SORM-3 technical requirement for equipment.
When an entity is deemed to be an information dissemination organiser and has not identified itself in the proper manner, Roskomnadzor will ask it to provide information for recordal within 15 days. If it fails to do so, Roskomnadzor will block the website or internet-based app.
For almost two years, there was no enforcement of the relatively new law and few foreign companies registered with Roskomnadzor. However, since April 2017 the situation has changed and Roskomnadzor has been taking action against foreign operators such as Zello, Line, Imo, Vchat and Blackberry messenger. The good news is that once an operator complies with the notification requirements, the block is quickly removed. According to Roskomnadzor’s website, WeChat provided all of the information required for the register and as of May 10 2017 was successfully recorded as an information dissemination organiser. Thus, the block was lifted.