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VPN providers pull Russian servers as Putin’s ban threatens to bite

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Russia opens case against Facebook and Twitter over data-localization law
Facebook and Twitter are in breach of laws requiring personal data to be kept on Russian soil, say the authorities.

Almost two years ago, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a law banning virtual private networks (VPNs) and other tools that could be used to circumvent the country’s extensive censorship of the internet. 

However, the Russian authorities haven’t done much to enforce the law. Until now.

On Thursday, Russia’s online regulator, Roskomnadzor, said it had written to 10 popular VPN services to demand they connect their systems to the watchdog’s blacklist of banned websites, so their users are no longer able to view the forbidden content. 

They were given 30 days in which to do so, failing which, “Roskomnadzor may decide to restrict access to the VPN service.”

The notified services include NordVPN, Hide My Ass, Hola VPN, OpenVPN, VyprVPN, ExpressVPN, TorGuard, IPVanish, Kaspersky Secure Connection – the only Russian VPN on the list – and VPN Unlimited. Similar obligations are placed on search-engine operators, including Google, which reportedly started playing ball last month after being hit with a small fine for noncompliance.

SEE: Can Russian hackers be stopped? Here’s why it might take 20 years (TechRepublic cover story) | Download the PDF version

In response to the request, TorGuard said in a blogpost it had “taken steps to remove all physical server presence in Russia,” wiping its Moscow and St Petersburg servers. 

“We would like to be clear that this removal of servers was a voluntary decision by TorGuard management and no equipment seizure occurred,” it wrote. 

“We do not store any logs, so even if servers were compromised it would be impossible for customers’ data to be exposed. TorGuard has not disclosed any information to the Russian authorities and our legal team has been notified of this request.”

TorGuard apologized for the sudden location removal and said it was rolling out additional servers in neighboring countries to “ensure fast VPN download speeds for everyone in the region.”

Because most of the services are not based in Russia, it could make them tricky to ban in an effective way. Roskomnadzor has a spotty record when it comes to blocking services based elsewhere – its haphazard attempt to block the Telegram messaging service springs to mind – though that is perhaps why lawmakers are keen to make the Russian internet (Runet) separable from the wider internet.

SEE: A winning strategy for cybersecurity (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

Of course, a ban wouldn’t be necessary if the VPN providers played ball. But Roskomnadzor may not have much luck on that front – TorGuard isn’t the only one that’s planning to resist.

“The strong censorship and oppression of the Russian regime was the main reason for us to avoid locating any of our servers inside Russia,” said VyprVPN operator Golden Frog in a blogpost. 

“Our core mission is to keep the internet open and free, and therefore, we will continue to provide uncensored access to the internet in Russia and around the world. We will not cooperate with the Russian government in their efforts to censor VPN services.”

Panama-based NordVPN told a concerned user on Twitter: “Rest assured, compliance is not something that we will consider.” 

OpenVPN tweeted a link to an article about Roskomnadzor’s threat, saying: “OpenVPN is committed to our users and customers by protecting them against cyberthreats and providing secure and private access to their information from anywhere in the world.”

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BMW iX5 Hydrogen Production Starts, But Don’t Expect To See This Fuel-Cell SUV In Dealerships

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The reality, though, is that even with a small number of BMW iX5 Hydrogen SUVs being produced — using individual fuel-cells supplied by Toyota, but assembled into a stack by BMW using the automaker’s own processes and technologies — the expectation is that hydrogen as a fuel will be predominantly of interest to non-passenger vehicles. Instead, it arguably makes the most sense, BMW suggests, for larger vehicles like medium- to heavy-duty trucks, along with the marine and aviation sectors. We’ve already seen Toyota reveal its plans for such an FCEV truck.

Despite that, and an acknowledgment that battery-electric vehicles will undoubtedly lead in the mainstream, BMW still believes there’s a place for FCEVs. After all, the automaker argues, if the infrastructure is being built to cater for trucks, there’s no reason not to also use it for passenger vehicles like the iX5 Hydrogen.

The results of the small-series production beginning today will be used as technology demonstrators across select regions from spring 2023, BMW says. It’s unclear at this point how many will be built. Depending on the reception and the strengths of the technology, series production of a first model could follow mid-decade, ahead of a potential full portfolio of BMW FCEVs from the 2030s onwards.

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Tesla Set To Deliver The First Semi To Pepsi

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In October, Tesla’s CEO revealed that the production of the Tesla Semi had begun, and it was bound to be delivered today. Tesla has already started the countdown, and we expect the unveiling event to go down at the Nevada factory. The electric truck will be dispatched to Pepsi, which had ordered 100 units. Investor reports that Tesla’s stock price increased by 7.7% on Wednesday, probably in anticipation of Tesla’s Semi first delivery.

Musk tweeted on Saturday that the “Tesla team just completed a 500-mile drive with a Tesla Semi weighing in at 81,000 lbs!” However, considering that Musk said that the company is dealing with supply chain issues and market inflation, it’s unclear if Tesla will stick to the original $180,000 price it intended to sell at when it was announced in 2017. Then again, Tesla offers a cheaper Semi that will be available for about $150,000 — but it can only achieve up to 300 miles at full load capacity. For now, we can only wait until it’s on the road to confirm if the specs match up to what was promised five years ago.  

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Coinbase Joins Elon Musk In Slamming The Apple App Store Tax

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Coinbase complained that Apple’s insistence on its cut unreasonably interfered with its business.

Coinbase’s argument was largely the same as Elon Musk’s, and the basis of Epic Games’ aforementioned lawsuit. According to all of the above, Apple was half of a duopoly: with Google, it controlled the global app marketplace. The “duopoly” part of the argument is pretty much incontrovertible: As of October 2022, both Apple and Google control 99.43% of the global smartphone market between them (via StatCounter). Both get a 30% cut of everyone’s action on its marketplace. From the perspective of Coinbase, that took too much money out of too many elements of its business.

Epic sued over that and, as noted above, won with an asterisk. Apple had restricted in-app purchases, and courts found that anticompetitive, but did require that Apple get a 30% cut of the profits, even though they took place in someone else’s app. In short, according to the Verge, the court said that if you’ve found a way to make money using iOS, you owe Apple 30%, period.

Epic thought in-app purchases should be exempted from the tax. Coinbase thinks elements of the NFT development process — in this case, gas prices to run the processing equipment necessary to mint NFTs — should be exempt from Apple’s app tax. Apple treats all user expenses on an app as in-app purchases and, per the Epic court decision, in-app purchases mean Apple gets a cut.

It’s not a simple problem, and it’s not likely to be solved anytime soon. Stakeholders and regulators have barely begun to integrate cryptocurrency and NFTs into the conventional marketplace. Who gets paid for what is likely to be a conversation for years on end. For now, all that’s certain is that conversation has begun.

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