MOSCOW Russia's communications regulator ordered public access to LinkedIn's website to be blocked on Thursday to comply with a court ruling that found the social networking firm guilty of violating a data storage law.
LinkedIn (LNKD.N), which has its headquarters in the United States, is the first major social network to be blocked by Russian authorities, setting a precedent for the way foreign Internet firms operate. It has over 6 million registered users in Russia.
The Kremlin said that the decision was legal and that President Vladimir Putin did not plan to interfere in the case.
When asked whether the move might stir fears of online censorship, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there were "no such concerns."
Critics see it as part of an attack on social networks in a country which has increasingly tightened control over the Internet.
Russian law requires websites that store the personal data of Russian citizens to do so on Russian servers, something communications regulator Roskomnadzor said LinkedIn had not done.
That law was approved by Putin in 2014 and came into force in September last year.
LinkedIn's site will be blocked within 24 hours, Interfax news agency cited Roskomnadzor spokesman Vadim Ampelonsky as saying. One Internet service provider, Rostelcom, said it had already blocked access.
Two others, MTS and Vimpelcom, said they would do so within 24 hours.
LinkedIn was starting to hear from members in Russia saying they were no longer able to access the site, a company spokeswoman said.
"Roskomnadzor's action to block LinkedIn denies access to the millions of members we have in Russia and the companies that use LinkedIn to grow their businesses," the spokeswoman said.
Roskomnadzor's Ampelonsky told Reuters the watchdog had received a letter from LinkedIn's U.S. management on Friday requesting a meeting.
He said he expected the meeting to take place within the next two weeks, but that Roskomnadzor had first to get approval for the meeting from the foreign ministry and the security services because LinkedIn was a foreign company.
The LinkedIn spokeswoman said the firm was still interested in meeting Roskomnadzor "to discuss their data localization request."
(Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova and Jack Stubbs; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Richard Balmforth)