Did the So-Called 'Russian Facebook' Hire Edward Snowden?

By Vincent Trivett  OCT 31, 2013 3:11 PM

Putin's Social Nemesis, the website named VK, might have hired the whistleblower.

 


Edward Snowden found a tech job in Russia, and though his lawyer isn't saying where, we have a few reasons to believe that it is VK, a popular social network with a shaky relationship to the security state.

Almost five months since he revealed the extent of the National Security Agency's data dragnet, including innocent American citizens, Snowden has been living mostly under the radar in Russia. He came out of hiding only a couple of times to do things like go shopping, or take a boat ride. As fun and luxurious as it might have been to suddenly leave a fantastic life in Hawaii to do almost nothing, the time has come for him to go to work with his very valuable skills as a government-trained hacker.

Today, Russian media reported that Snowden has been hired for a technical support job at a "major" Russian website. His lawyer would not say where he will be working starting next month for security concerns. Also, that company might not have an easy time setting up shop outside of Russia if that came out.

We can only speculate which company hired Snowden, but all signs point to VK. Another prime candidate would be Yandex (NASDAQ:YNDX), but reporters at The Verge confirmed that Yandex never even got an application from him.

VK, formerly known as VKontakte, is Europe's largest home-grown social network. It's popular across the Russian-speaking world and Israel. According to MuStat, VK gets at least 8 million hits every day. The tech press calls it Russia's answer to Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), and for good reason. VK is pretty much a mirror image of the famous social networking site, and matches just about every function that Facebook has. Even if there wasn't an English version, you could probably navigate this site pretty easily.


The point where Facebook and VK diverge, however, is the latter's history of hosting pirated material. VK makes it easy to share files, and much of what users share is pirated. On numerous occasions, it was sued for not being vigilant enough about preventing piracy.

Way back in July, Minyanville's Nick Shchetko speculated that VK would be a top candidate for Snowden's next step, among other possibilities. A month later, VK publicly offered him a job. Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden's Russian lawyer, said that his client has received multiple offers, given his exceptional technical talents.

But the peculiar character of Russia's Mark Zuckerberg might make VK more tolerant of Snowden's high-profile history of doing precisely what his employer tells him not to do. As the Washington Post reported in May, Pavel Durov, the founder of VK, has had his own run-ins with the security state. Durov had to go into hiding himself after he was accused of a hit-and-run against a policeman. He is alleged to have only grazed the officer, and there is zero evidence that the incident in question involved Durov. Soon after a businessman with ties to Rosneft Oil Company (OTCMKTS:RNFTF), a state-run company, and President Vladimir Putin himself, attempted a clandestine hostile takeover of the social network. Police also confiscated VK's servers, saying that it was part of the hit-and-run investigation. Also, in May, the site with tens of millions of active users was briefly placed on the government blacklist -- a place usually reserved for child pornography and terrorism websites.

The harassment of Durov and VK are thought to stem from the Kremlin's fear that the popular social network will be a hub for dissent. Indeed, after Putin's most recent questionable reelection, it was the go-to network for young urbanites to vent. Russia doesn't want that to grow to Cairo-like proportions.

Also, Durov, like Snowden, lists his political views as libertarian. It is a bit ironic that Snowden lifted the veil on government data collection on Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO), and AOL (NYSE:AOL) users, and finds himself working for another tech company undergoing even worse intimidation.

Twitter: @vincent_trivett
No positions in stocks mentioned.

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