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InformationWeek Daily - Wednesday, Dec 5, 2007


Editor's Note

Is LiveJournal Deal Part of Putin's Putsch?

The same day that Russian President Vladimir Putin posted a controversial electoral win, a Moscow firm backed by a Kremlin insider bought up a blogging service widely used by dissidents in the country. Coincidence?

Some bloggers in Russia think not. "The Russian company now has an opportunity to close...communities of anyone not [in] consent with Putin's mode," wrote "dobriy_cheburek," responding to LiveJournal creator Brad Fitzpatrick's post about the deal. Similar thoughts are now echoing around the country's blogosphere.

Here's the background: On Sunday, Putin's United Russia party swept the country's parliamentary elections--winning more than 64% of the vote.

Putin's victory is already being challenged by a wide range of domestic and Western agencies, including NATO and the Council of Europe. The White House has also expressed concerns that the election was rigged.

Also on Sunday, San Francisco-based Six Apart disclosed that it had sold its LiveJournal blogging service, used by more than 1 million Russians--including many Putin critics--to Moscow's SUP.

Never heard of SUP? It's backed by Aleksandr Mamut. He's been described as "the new face of Russia's oligarchy" by the BBC and by The New York Times as "the Kremlin's latest all-purpose power broker."

That Russia's most popular blogging service, servers and all, is now in the hands of a man with close ties to a government that's been rolling back press freedoms, and that may have just stolen an election, is a troubling turn of events for some.

On Fitzpatrick's blog, "Sdelmonte" wrote that the sale of LiveJournal to SUP, "coming on the heels of Putin's false election, should give you pause."

Another LiveJournal user, "Flavius Iulianus," said he would cancel his account because of the sale, "sooner, rather than later, so they don't get my info off the back end."

One anonymous blogger wrote that the SUP/LiveJournal deal is "definitely bad news for Russian opposition." Blogger "The Dimka" wrote that the deal "does not smell too good."

Is this all just paranoia? Well, consider that critics of Russia's new nomenklatura are increasingly being stifled and, in the worst cases, are turning up dead (Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko, Paul Klebnikov, among others).

To help assuage user fears, SUP announced that Fitzpatrick will sit on an "advisory board" that will also include two members of "the community" on a rotating basis.

That probably won't be too reassuring for anti-Putin bloggers. Fitzpatrick, judging from his blog, is a fratboy type who's more concerned about missing happy hour than he is about the privacy concerns of millions of LiveJournal users.

"Now I get to sit back and watch all the community conspiracy theories. I can't wait to see what everybody hypothesizes about the Kremlin, Jews, etc.," Fitzpatrick wrote in a post about the deal.

"It's Monday night drinking night. ... I think everybody should go to the LJ + SUP party," he wrote in another.

This situation is worth keeping an eye on.

What do you think? Is SUP's purchase of LiveJournal part of a Russian plan to suppress dissent? If you have a LiveJournal account, do you plan to keep it? Leave a message on the InformationWeek Blog and let us know.

Paul McDougall
paulmcd@cmp.com
www.informationweek.com

Quote of The Day

Chanukah is that special time of year between Christmas and Misgiving when all the bestest holiday shows are on TV. -- Rugrats

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