Russia Forces Google to Remove Masses of Links Amid Ukraine Invasion *TorrentFreak

Between 2011 and 2013, protests took place in Russia in response to allegations of election rigging and a lack of civil liberties in Russia.

The protests targeted Vladimir Putin. In return, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) asked local social media giant vKontakte to start blocking opposition groups on the grounds that they were trying to organize a revolution.

A struggle for control of online narrative has begun. In late 2012, Russia passed a law allowing it to blacklist and block websites, publications and online news outlets that dared to hold their own opinions.

Russian authorities later expanded their remit to include copyrighted material and in 2017, after the government concluded that circumvention tools were undermining efforts to control what is said and ultimately thought in the country, Russia has introduced a new law to crack down on VPNs, Tor, anonymizers. , proxies, allowing them to be blocked as well.

Services that were in Russia and provided the government with access to server data were allowed to stay. But, due to the so-called “VPN law”, many have chosen to leave rather than expose their users to surveillance. Those who remained naturally became popular locally.

To deal with those not registering or operating from abroad, Russian telecommunications regulator Rosocomnadzor launched, among other things, an attack on Tor and a massive search engine delisting campaign.

After the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, all the pieces began to fall into place. With the introduction of a new law against “fake news”, journalists who reported articles hijacked from official government propaganda could face up to 15 years in prison. And, of course, their websites would also be blocked, ensuring that the overwhelming mass of news published locally would effectively become press releases for the Kremlin.

While some citizens have dared to do their own research on overseas platforms and locally blocked ones, VPNs have reportedly grown in popularity. However, a long-running campaign to make them much harder to find then kicked into high gear, with Rosocomnadzor bombarding search engines, including Google, with orders to remove them from their indexes. Unfortunately, if Google were to abide by Russian laws, the company had no choice but to comply.

The Major VPN Removal Campaign Continues

As reported last summer, Russia’s attack on anti-censorship tools is not new. In the previous two years, Roscomnadzor had ordered Google alone to remove more than half a million links from its search engine, with a single notice sometimes targeting thousands of URLs.

These advisories have continued periodically since then, but in January and early February 2022, Russia – which had massed around 200,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders ostensibly to conduct several “training exercises” – also stepped up the attack. against VPNs.

With the help of the Lumen database, we can report that in a notice sent to Google on February 22, Google was ordered to remove 746 VPN-related URLs from its search service in Russia. The day before the invasion, additional notices targeted over 1,300 additional URLs. The day after the invasion, he targeted 1,813 more.

And the campaign did not stop there.

Reviews from February 28 (1,267 URLs), March 1 (1,337 URLs and 891 URLs), March 2 (929 URLs and 923 URLs), March 4 (1,502 URLs and 756 URLs) continued the pressure. On March 5, a single review targeted an additional 5,540 URLs, and on March 8, another targeted an additional 2,170.

The remaining question is what services, platforms and websites have been targeted by Russia? The answer to that is we just don’t know – we’re not allowed to.

Google removes the links but cannot reveal them

It is normal for the Lumen Database to remove targeted URLs in the copyright notices it makes generally available. However, if one has access to a researcher account, these can usually be revealed. It is a crucial tool that sheds light on the nature of requests and allows journalists to highlight abuses and their potential deterrent effect. In “VPN law” cases, Google simply does not provide the details since Russian law prohibits it.

“Google has received a request from the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Media (Roskomnadzor) to remove more than 2170 URLs from web search in Russia,” a sample notice reads.

“This request falls under the Russian Federal Law 276-FZ” on Amendments to the Federal Law “On Information, Information Technology and Data Security”, commonly known as the “VPN Law”. We are unable to publish the full list of URLs due to Russian law (Roskomnadzor order #217, appendix 3, dated October 25, 2017).

russia redacted vpn removal notice

Thus, the denial of access to information is completed.

To censor access to resources that refuse to be censored or spew propaganda, they are blocked by the state. Then, to prevent access to VPNs/anti-circumvention tools that uncensor these resources, they are also blocked and then removed from search, as Russian law prevents a US company (in this case Google) from revealing what has been locked.

Interestingly, the latest piece of Russia’s censorship operation could still silence the vast majority of dissenting voices, rendering every notice sent to search engines so far against VPN-related URLs completely moot. It is currently unclear whether it will actually commit to its warnings, but Russia claims the ability to completely disconnect from the outside internet by implementing another draconian plan.

Russia’s “Sovereign Internet”

As The Insider explains, VPNs are unlikely to be effective in the future, as Russia is planning something much more robust – its own restricted and highly censored internal “internet”, cut off from the outside world.

“There is no need for global international filtering, there will simply be no external traffic by default, except via gateways under the full control of Rostelecom and Co,” says Alexey Shkittin, a man with a history confrontation with the Russian government on the Internet. Questions.

“And internal traffic will be decrypted by DPI (deep filtering) and blocked as needed. It will be impossible to build a VPN tunnel, as well as to use block bypass systems built into browsers. Thus, the intended sovereign Internet is essentially a logically closed system of network management, or a sovereign segment of the international network, which operates on the model of the global Internet, but is completely separate from it.

With Russia increasingly cut off economically from the outside world, it could be on the verge of becoming even more disconnected.

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