65% of blocked sites continue operating in Russia 

65% of blocked sites continue operating in Russia

In 2016, Russian authorities have blocked an unprecedented number of sites featuring illicit content. However the research conducted by RBC showed that at least 65% of resources from Roskomnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media) register are still working.⁠

2016 hit the top of the scale in terms of the number of web pages and the IP-addresses added to existing since late 2012 Unified Register of the domain names, website references and network addresses containing information circulation of which is forbidden in the Russian Federation. Nearly 87 thousand pages, domain names and IP-addresses were blacklisted, Roskomnadzor stated. As of late December almost a third of them – 34.5 thousand – remained in the register, which means that their administrators decided against removing illegal material. The total number of pages, domains and IP-addresses in the register at the end of 2016 amounted to 51.7 thousand; by mid-February 2017 the number has risen to 60.2 thousand.

At the same time the rate of the register enlargement is increasing year by year. During 2013 14.5 thousand web sites and pages were added to it, 3.4 thousand of them remained blocked by the end of the year. In 2014 the number of sites and pages put in the register soared to 28.96 thousand, 4 thousand of which remained blocked, in 2015 – 49.7 thousand sites and pages added, 18.8 thousand of which were still blocked, the materials of Roskomnadzor report.

According to Roskomsvoboda – social project advocating freedom of information in the Internet – all together the register had more than 137.4 thousand sites, almost 60% of which were subsequently unblocked. There are no official data on what sites are still blocked as they did not remove the forbidden information. RBC analyzed the register and reached a conclusion that notwithstanding the lock, at least 65% of the sites from the register continue to operate, that is their administrators keep on paying for the domain registration and hosting and filling the site with content.

How operating sites were found

To analyze web pages added to Roskomnadzor black list, a copy of the register from Roskomsvoboda site was used. RBC source from Roskomnadzor confirmed that the data from the copy were relevant. The analysis of the content was carried out only on those sites that were open as of December 16, 2016 – they totaled almost to 30 thousand. To determine the subject of a resource, sets of keywords were employed. To identify the geography of IP-addresses freely available base of IP-addresses GeoLite2 was relied on.

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Method of adding

Roskomnadzor began to maintain the register of blacklisted sites in November 2012, when the law "On protection of Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development" entered into force. It empowered the service to close sites in the pretrial order. Roskomnadzor could give a provider an indication to limit access to sites featuring pornography involving minors, instructions for suicide or guidelines for drugs production.

Later a number of state institutions qualified for pre-trial blocking of various sites and pages: the Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN) (was passed to the Ministry of Internal Affairs after the dissolution) – sites that describe drug making methods, Rospotrebnadzor – sites with appeals to suicide, Prosecutor General's Office – sites with extremist materials, calls for civil unrest, incitement of ethnic and interreligious hatred, participation in terrorist activities and other illegal information, the Federal Tax Service – websites with online casinos and bookmakers.

The register has records dating back to 2004–2012 years. In this case we are talking about pages that contained nationalist or religious content and were blocked if the court considered them extremist. Now the courts continue to block sites for sale of certain medications, alcohol, products the import of which is prohibited in Russia, diplomas, passports, military IDs, sick leaves and other documents; for information about tax and loan evasion, ‘twisting’ counter devices; for the illegal distribution of content protected by copyright, offer of sexual services etc.

Geography and subjects of forbidden sites

Most of the IP-address (48%) in the list of Roskomnadzor are related to addresses allocated the United States. This is due to the fact that 35% of all unique addresses in the old version of IPv4 internet protocol were distributed in the US.

The majority of sites content of which was analyzed contained pornography, materials on gambling, politics or were extremist.

Why owners of sites from the register continue to sustain their work 

Director of the Coordinating Center of .RU/.RF domains Andrey Vorobyov believes that sites that need Russian audience make every effort to restore the ability to access them in the country territory. "It can be assumed that sites that do not change their policy mainly count on users from other countries, where published information or the principles of personal data processing are not prohibited" – he noted, providing as an example social network LinkedIn, which has been locked in Russian by court decision, but remains available for users from other countries.

CEO of Reg.ru domain names registrar Svetlana Lienko agrees with this. She reminds that in total Russian sites account for less than 2% of the global Internet, besides, only 30% of the traffic of Russian-speaking audience is generated in Russia, the rest is from territories of other countries. Finally, many sites offer two or more languages, that is they are oriented not only to Russians.

Roskomsvoboda lawyer Sarkis Darbinyan emphasizes that the legislation does not provide for limitation of access to sites on an ongoing basis. Eternal lock can only be applied under anti-piracy law - the Moscow City Court may pass such a verdict on the requirements related to copyright infringement. So far such decision has been made in respect of 162 domain names. For instance, timeless block was put on popular torrent tracker RuTracker.org and French video hosting Dailymotion.

Still the complete block of RuTracker.org did not severely affect the number of visitors to the resource. Thus, according to Similar Web data generated upon RBC request, in December 2015 the site was opened 52.9 million times from Russia, in December 2016 – 29.9 million times. Some people from Russia could use the VPN-services and other ways to bypass the lock, which means that a Russian IP-address could be hidden as an IP-address of a resident of another country. The world torrent traffic has been declining for the whole previous year, but still remained tremendous. In January 2016 106.8 million users from around the world visited the site, in December of the same year – 76.1 million.

Authorities are trying to complicate the existence of illegal resources. Thus, the possibility of a ban for banks to transfer money from Russians to foreign companies and natural persons seen in an illegal organization of gambling is being considered. In 2016 at the request of the Federal Tax Service Roskomnadzor blocked 12.6 thousand resources devoted to gambling, another 6.5 thousand online casinos have been blocked by courts decisions.

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