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Ilya Bezruchko
Former editor and anchor of Jewish News 1 channel

Will Yango share your personal data with FSB?

The war in Ukraine (started in 2014), especially the full-scale invasion of Russian troops into Ukraine (24.02.2022), forced many Russian citizens and businesses to look for different options to obtain another citizenship. Regarding security and privacy, Israeli citizenship is one of the best. First, it opens for its owner a path to the European market. Second, it allows starting life from a new page with newly obtained citizenship and even a name that makes it challenging to define any possible connections of the person to Russian-sanctioned businesses or authorities. At the same time, the new citizenship does not cancel obligations to the “Motherland.” These facts make the process of implementing sanctions much more complicated than it was before.  

Sanctions against Russia and Belarus 2022 https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8b/Sanctions_against_Russia_and_Belarus_2022.svg

Israel is one of the few democratic countries that does not implement sanctions against Russian businesses and looks past the sanctions lists made by the EU and USA. 

Tel Aviv, Israel https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2b/View_of_Diamond_Exchange_Center_from_Azrieli_Center.jpg

There is an excellent example of a Russian business operating in Israel, and it is Yango. Yango Taxi, Yango Deli (grocery delivery), and others are just brands owned by several Dutch companies, where the foreign office of Russian Yandex LLC is located. The European Union imposed sanctions on Mr. Arkadiy Volozh (Russian/Israeli citizen ), CEO of the Dutch Holding company of Yandex, a year ago. Right after it, Yandex N.V., a Dutch public limited company, announced that Arkady Volozh, the company’s co-founder, has stepped down with immediate effect from his positions as Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of Yandex N.V. and from his board and executive roles with its international subsidiaries. The EU lately added Yandex’s Deputy CEO Tigran Khudaverdyan to its sanctions lists (he soon resigned from the company).

Yandex headquarters building in Moscow https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ad/Yandex_main_office.jpg

A publication in the Official Journal of the European Union states that Yandex and its CEO are responsible for promoting state-owned media in search results and removing criticism of the Kremlin, including regarding Russian aggression in Ukraine. Call Mr. Volozh is a businessman who materially and financially supports the government of the Russian Federation and is responsible for actions or policies that undermine or threaten Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence.

At the same time, international observers noticed that the Yandex search engine only offers prewar images of Bucha, where the Russian military carried out massacres.

In the latest interviews, Mr. Volozh calls himself an Israeli businessman born in Kazakhstan and tries to distance himself from his Russian origin and connections to the state authorities. 

Mr. Volozh https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/26/Arkadii_Volozh_in_his_office.JPG

Yango has operated in Israel since 2018. Their operational markets are riddled among business people because, for some reason, they start working only in that areas where Russian authorities have their own interests or many Russian-speaking citizens. Among them: are the Baltic states, Finland, Norway, some African countries, Armenia, Georgia, and Belarus. Baltic countries imposed sanctions and blocked operations of the Yango. Finland is blocking the transfer of the personal data of users of the app to Russia. But what is more interesting is that having all together: food delivery, taxi, and e-scooter sharing, Yandex (Yango) became the ultimate user of your private data. It includes everything from your card details and locations to your taste preferences and even people you visit and share e-scooters or cabs during weekends or business meetings. 

To use the Yandex application, you need to provide access to a large amount of personal data that is processed on the company’s servers in Russia and can be used in intelligence activities against Estonia and Europe. In today’s political situation, this is a serious threat to Estonia’s security, – said Andres Sutt, Estonia’s Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a8/Yango_Finland.jpg Yango Finland

At the same time, due to the sanctions, Yandex is facing difficulties in its rapid grocery business in the UK and France. The company is reportedly exploring strategic shifts for its businesses in these two countries, including possibly selling the UK business and shutting down the French subsidiary. 

No photo description available.
Yango cab in Israel. Source: Facebook https://scontent.ftlv6-1.fna.fbcdn.net/v/t1.6435-9/48269189_367088690529411_8282812570268598272_n.jpg?_nc_cat=108&cb=99be929b-59f725be&ccb=1-7&_nc_sid=730e14&_nc_ohc=Ofn9afPsDGIAX9eMOrG&_nc_ht=scontent.ftlv6-1.fna&oh=00_AfAh-HBnAIq8wQDTOFUigcS_ZtBVp7LNVkT5c1ngtS5ENw&oe=64F9CE04

However, not only will Yandex operate your data, but FSB.

“The databases of all Yango… are located in Russia. There is no physical or logical division [into the international and Russian parts],”  – states the internal correspondence that was disclosed by the journalist of the “Meduza” media.

The FSB will have round-the-clock access to this information from September 1st – Prime Minister of Russia Mikhail Mishustin has already signed the relevant decree.

FSB HQ in Moscow https://live.staticflickr.com/1154/897648144_4438a913d0_b.jpg

I assume this data is vital for Russia’s security services. The question is how Israeli authorities will react to this security threat that gives access to the personal data of hundreds of thousands of Israelis to the closes ally of Iran that shares with the Islamic Republic not only intelligence but nuclear technologies, according to some military observers and intelligence reports available online.

About the Author
Ilya Bezruchko is Co-founder of the co-working network in Ukraine, Entrepreneur, a blogger and the Jewish activist.
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