Snapchat
Snapchat's parent company did not know what it was signing, a spokesperson claimedGetty Images

Snap Inc, the parent company of messaging app Snapchat, has said it accidentally signed up to Russia's list of "information distribution organisers", a government list of companies that agree to retain user data and provide it to the security services at will from next year.

This week (10 August), Meduza and TJournal first reported how Roskomnadzor, the state media watchdog, had claimed that the US firm provided its "office address, a service description, contact email addresses, and other data" in response to an official government request.

Snap Inc was reportedly threatened with a block in Russia if it didn't comply with the request.

"The company was entered into the register after it provided the necessary information in response to a request from Roskomnadzor," the state censor said a statement published to its website.

Officially billed as anti-terror legislation set to take effect in July next year, companies on the list will have to ensure user data is accessible for Russian security services, while storing calls and text messages for six months and communications metadata for a year.

But a Snap Inc. spokesperson later told Gizmodo that media reports about its involvement were wrong and that it had been registered by mistake.

The spokesperson said it was unclear that the information would be used for the list and indicated that the firm would not comply with any demands.

According to TJournal, there are no Western messaging apps like WhatsApp, Viber, Skype or Facebook Messenger currently on the register. Other services including Telegram, WeChat and Vkontakte (Russia's version of Facebook) are on the list, however.

Russia has cracked down on web freedom in recent months. In October 2016, government officials launched into a public spat with LinkedIn. Most recently, Putin signed a law restricting the use of virtual private networks (VPNs), which help the public circumvent internet blocks.

Even PornHub appears to be under threat.

"Russia's authorities are leading an assault on free expression," Yulia Gorbunova, Russia-focused researcher at Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday 18 July. "These laws aren't just about introducing tough policies, but also about blatant violation of human rights."

"The Russian government effectively controls most traditional media, but independent internet users have been openly challenging the government's actions," Gorbunova continued.

"The authorities clearly view independent online users as a threat that needs to be disarmed."

But such metadata collection, it should be noted, is not just limited to Russia. In the UK, the Investigatory Powers Bill (IPBill) has similar provisions, forcing technology companies operating in the country to store customers' communications data for up to 12 months.