In Front of Putin, Internet Titans Lose Their Nerve
Published: June 25, 2014 (Issue # 1817)
Theástatements that President Vladimir Putin made atáa recent meeting with leaders ofáthe Russian Internet are hardly worth discussing. As usual, he offered only vague assurances ofásupport foráa variety ofáfreedoms while pretending that all ofáthe recent legislative initiatives tightening control over theáInternet were designed exclusively toáfight pedophiles, drugs, terrorism andásuicide.
What is worth discussing is theáposition ofáthe Internet industry leaders themselves. Ináthe run-up toáthe meeting, many observers recalled theáconversation that then prime minister Putin held with Internet professionals onáDec. 29, 1999áŚ theáfirst andáonly ináthe past 15 years.
Over theácourse ofáthose 15 years theáRussian Internet has evolved intoáan industry doing more than 5 trillion rubles ($143 billion) inábusiness annually, employing 1.3 million IT professionals, generating 8.5 percent ofáRussiaĺs gross domestic product andáaccounting forá2.5 percent ofáall its trade. Almost every market is now connected inásome way with theáInternet. Whatĺs more, Russian companies have shown that they are able toádominate theádomestic Internet market even after global corporations entered theáfray.
However, theápeople invited toáthe meeting with Putin did not behave like theáleaders ofásuch aápowerful industry.
Many had hoped that theámeeting would provide aáforum toádiscuss theádisastrous impact that two years ofástate regulations have had onáthe Russian Internet. They also hoped industry leaders would present aáunited front toáthe presidentáŚ who personally inflicted serious damage toáthe sector byápublicly stating that theáInternet is theábrainchild ofáthe CIA andáby criticizing Russian Internet giants Yandex, Mail.ru andáQiwi, causing their stocks toáplummet onáthe Nasdaq.
Instead, theásubject ofáregulation was never even raised. Theárecently passed law tightening restrictions onáblogs was only mentioned once.
That comment came fromáVkontakte deputy CEO Boris Dobrodeyev, who is himself hardly anáopposition leader. Borisĺs father, Oleg, is head ofáthe All-Russia State Television andáRadio Broadcasting Company, aástate media behemoth. Despite Boris having only worked atáthe social network since January, Mail.Ru GroupáŚ Russiaĺs second-largest Internet company andáowner ofáa 52 percent share ináVkontakteáŚ has already nominated him to replace CEO Pavel Durov.
Andáeven then, Dobrodeyev only referred toáblogs as part ofáhis attempt toápoint out that Vkontakte has about 80,000 groups with more than 3,000 followersáŚ aáfigure almost exceeding theátotal number ofáonline media ináthe country andáunderscoring theáimportance ofáblogs toáthe Internet business as aáwhole. Ináfact, Dobrodeyev made his comment atáan open meeting before Putinĺs arrival, meaning that theápresident never even heard it directly.
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