The concerns about sharing ride data are not unfounded. Due to Russia's new surveillance law, simple trip data can now be accessed by the FSB. Russian company Yandex has recently faced criticism and concerns about its users' privacy. Yandex Go, one of the company's services, has been particularly in the spotlight due to concerns about data protection and surveillance by the Russian government.
Kazakhstan recently announced that Yandex servers will be moved to their territory. This decision followed the revelation that Moscow had authorized Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) to access Yandex Go users' personal data. A representative of the Kazakhstani ministry confirmed: “As part of an effort to strengthen our partnership and national digital resources,” Yandex confirmed its willingness to proceed with the transfer of servers for the domain yandex.kz to the territory of the country.
But what does this mean for user privacy? From September 1, 2023, the FSB will have 24/7 access to user data collected by Yango (aka Yandex Go). This unprecedented level of access is not limited to Russian citizens. Given that Yango operates in several countries, including Israel and several European states, this raises serious privacy concerns for international users.
Arkady Volozh, the co-founder of Yandex, has spoken out against the Russian offensive in Ukraine. His statement is striking, given the limited criticism of the Russian state by prominent businessmen in the country. He expressed his outrage and said: "Russia's invasion of Ukraine is barbaric and I categorically oppose it."
In June of the previous year, Volozh resigned from Yandex's executive board, more than three months after the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine. Although he has lived in Israel since the 2010s, he has expressed support for Russian engineers who chose to leave the country, suggesting he worked behind the scenes to help them.
The FSB, in full the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, is Russia's main security and intelligence service. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the KGB (State Security Committee) was split into several organizations. One of its most important successors was the FSB, which became responsible for internal security and counterintelligence. The FSB has been involved in several controversial issues over the years and is often criticized for its methods and the extent to which it is used to suppress political opponents of the Russian government.
The concerns about sharing ride data are not unfounded. Due to Russia's new surveillance law, simple trip data such as 'User X traveled with driver Y from point A to point B' can now be accessed by the FSB. This may have potential consequences for users outside of Russia. The recent history of Yandex's cooperation with Russian law enforcement and security services, as revealed by the report the company published in October 2020, only reinforces these concerns. The report revealed that in the first six months of 2019, Yandex had fulfilled more than 15.000 government information requests in 84% of cases.
Even more worrying is the extent to which this data can be used for political purposes. The case of the journalist Ivan Golunov, who was falsely accused based on taxi ride data provided by Yandex, is a shocking example. It provides evidence that user data can be used not only for legitimate criminal investigations, but also for politically motivated accusations.
Yandex has the same working method as Uber but in one other packaging. It is loved by the customer as much as it is hated by the taxi drivers and entrepreneurs who call it a monopolist 'pure sang'. After hearing from various entrepreneurs and taxi drivers, you can rightly call Yandex the Uber of the Russian Federation with the same basic characteristics such as circumventing regulations, exploiting drivers and controlling the market as a monopolist. That is not that difficult either, because at the beginning of 2018 Yandex and Uber started working together to offer their services in Russia.
Kazakhstan is a large country in Central Asia bordered to the north by Russia, to the east by China, to the south by Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and to the west by the Caspian Sea. Kazakhstan was part of the Russian Empire and later the Soviet Union. It gained independence in 1991 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Relations between Kazakhstan and Russia are generally friendly and cooperative, although Kazakhstan, since gaining independence, has pursued a foreign policy aimed at maintaining a balance between major powers such as Russia, China, and the West.