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Russian Censor Says It's High Time the Country Developed Its Own Messenger App

Does Russia need a national messaging service to guard its communications? Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot.

Does Russia need a national messaging service to guard its communications? Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot.

Russia is in dire need of its own national text messaging service, according to Alexandr Zharov, head of Roscomnadzor, Russia's media watchdog. Speaking at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, Zharov claimed the idea has merit as Russia is trying to replace imported foreign goods and services with their own products.

Мы сейчас пользуемся только иностранными. Он (национальный мессенджер) нужен для отражения национальной идентичности – такой мессенджер должен будет использовать особенности нашего языка. Около 300 млн человек в мире пользуются русскоязычными сервисами.

At the moment we only use foreign [services]. We need it [a national messaging service] to reflect our national identity—such a messaging service will have to take into account the peculiarities of our language. About 300 million people around the world use Russian-language services.

Zharov's sentiment was echoed by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who was also present at the forum. Kadyrov stressed that the main issue with using foreign communication services is a lack of control and access to user data for Russian security services, which he sees as a threat to “national security.” Unless Russian law enforcement gets access to the messaging services and social networks data on par with other countries, Kadyrov believes it wise to “minimize the threats” and to “cut off the channels which could be used to spread threats to our security with impunity and without control.”

In 2014, Russia launched its own state-supported search engine, Sputnik, which is currently said to occupy about 1% of the country's search market and is known to filter its search results to censor content it finds objectionable.

It's worth noting that Telegram, the new text messaging service created by Pavel Durov, founder of Russia's biggest social network VKontakte, does offer a Russian interface and full support for Russian-language users. Telegram, which currently boasts 62 million users, was started by Durov in 2013, shortly before he left VKontakte—and Russia—citing his inability to work in a country “incompatible with Internet business.”

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