Bad news for Facebook.

Last year the Russian Government approved a new law that compels Internet Companies to have their servers in Russia if they keep data of Russian citizens. This law received a great deal of criticism because if servers and data are physically located in a country the Government of that country can easily control and limit online freedom. And the Russian Government is not famous for encouraging too much freedom of expression.

However, even if it’s not considered a “good law” many Companies are already moving their data of Russian users to servers located in the country: Google, Samsung and eBay for example are doing it, even though some said they will not do it.

It’s Facebook.

Thomas Myrup Kristensen Facebook’s Director Public Policy, Nordics, Central & Eastern Europe and Russia said basically that Facebook doesn’t keep “personal data” as the law says and transfer all datas to Russian Servers is too expensive for the Company.

This may look like a simple answer but it sounds like a declaration of war: when no-one else, not even Google, was brave enough to do that, Facebook is challenging the Russian Government and it seems they will intentionally infringe a law. No-one can say what will happen but this can become the biggest war between a Government and an Internet Company, bigger even than the one between Google and the European Union.

Pavel Durov: the Russian Zuckerberg

Putin’s Government is famous for not being “sweet” with companies that don’t do what Russian laws (or Russian leaders) require. In the last week of August the whole of Wikipedia was blocked for a week due to a single article about charas (a kind of hashish) that contained information about the production of the drug. VKontakte, the leading Russian Social Network which had more users and traffic than Facebook last year. Pavel Durov, the founder of VKontakte, fled the country a day after he said he was forced out as the company’s CEO for refusing to share users’ personal data with Russian law enforcement agencies. VKontakte was already owned by Alisher Usmanov (Russia’s richest man) and now the CEO is Igor Sechin. Both are Putin friends and supporters.

There are two probable scenarios for the future of social media in Russia:

  • Facebook will be banned from Russia and this will be a great victory and gift for Vkontakte and Russian Government.
  • Other companies will follow Facebook and the Government will change again the law.

Sometimes Internet is stronger than Governments

In Decemeber 2014 the Spanish Government tried to charge Google News with a special tax for showing other sources contents. Google decided not to pay and closed the Spanish Google News version. This might sound like a victory for content owners and for the Government ( pay or leave) but the result is a huge loss of traffic (14%) after just a few weeks and the estimated loss of earnings for the Spanish media after less than a year, in August 2015 was about 10 million euros. Spanish editors that were all for the Government Google Tax at the end of 2014 are now crying out to have Google News back.

Even if the situation is not exactly the same in Russia, a Government Victory can become a Pyrrhic victory just as it happened in Spain.