East meets West: Russia wants industry to ditch Zoom, Skype, and WhatsApp

Russia’s ministry of industry and trade is now asking industrial bodies to stop using Western apps for communicating at work and choose Russian systems as an alternative.

As the Kommersant daily reported, the ministry has asked enterprises to stop using foreign messengers and videoconferencing systems, such as Zoom, Skype, and WhatsApp. The letter to the heads of industrial bodies was sent on October 13.

The supposed aim is to ensure cybersecurity, even though the presented alternatives – for example, Yandex.Messenger – are suspected to be controlled and snooped on by the Russian state.

The register of acceptable domestic software provided by the ministry includes 258 Russian products, such as Yandex.Messenger, Yandex.Telebridge, Jazz, TrueConf, Kontur.Tolk, ICQ, TamTam, and VK Messenger.

“It is necessary to communicate on Russian messengers both on computers and smartphones, tablets and other devices,” the ministry said.

The recommendation seems to be problematic. For instance, even though Yandex is the largest internet company, in August 2022, it was forced to sell off its news and blogging services to the state-controlled platform VKontakte (VK).

Even before that, news items on Yandex had already been carefully curated to avoid controversial topics. Items criticizing the war in Ukraine are regularly deranked or removed from the search results.

What’s more, back in March, the Financial Times cited researchers who have raised concerns that user data, collected by Yandex and sent to servers in Russia, may then be accessed by the Kremlin and used to track people through their mobile phones.

The transition to Russian software for government agencies and budgetary organizations was already approved in 2021.

Back then, Rostec, the state-owned defense conglomerate, stopped using Zoom, Skype, and WhatsApp, while the ministry of education also sent out a recommendation to avoid using foreign software in schools.

As Cybernews has already reported this week, Russia has recently been on a fining spree, issuing financial penalties to almost every major Western tech company.

Russia’s communications watchdog Roskomnadzor has fined Amazon, TikTok, Twitch, Google, YouTube, and other platforms that have allegedly failed to remove what the watchdog deems “illegal content”.

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