Regulators realized that fining tech companies hundreds of thousands of dollars--or even several million dollars--isn't enough to stop them from breaking the law. Russia appears to have missed that memo, though, because a court in Moscow today issued a 3,000 ruble fine to Facebook over violating data privacy laws that require companies to store data about their Russian users on servers located in the country. That's about $50.
This might be the rare case where it's easier to side with Facebook than a regulator when it comes to privacy concerns. Protecting the privacy of Russian citizens from foreign spying might be part of the reason why these laws are in effect. But it's possible the Russian government simply wants to be able to access information about its citizens without international scrutiny.
Breaking the law for a good reason is still breaking the law, though, so it shouldn't be too detrimental to take this fine at face value. (At least not on a tech news site--determining the morals of this particular rule or Facebook's breaking of it is above our pay grade.) That's where a $50 fine on a company with a $511 billion market cap and whose share price is $179.10 at time of writing, seems like either a typo or a bad joke.
Just consider some of the other fines recently levied against tech companies. Facebook was fined £500,000 (roughly $642,000) in October 2018 over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and the fine was only that low because the UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) had to rely on an old law instead of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) enacted last year. Google was fined a record €1.5 billion (about $1.7 billion) in March.
For comparison: Russia would have to issue its $50 fine another 34 million times for it to match Google's recent fine. That might seem laughable, but that's only because the case isn't really about the fine. ZDNet noted that this is just the beginning of a process that could eventually block Facebook from Russia entirely, and regardless of how one feels about the service, good things don't usually follow efforts to block communication tools.
The idea that this is about more than a symbolic fine meant to convince Facebook the Russian government means business is supported by the fact that Russia issued the same fine to Twitter last week. Russia blocked LinkedIn in 2016, and Google+ is finally dead, so Facebook and Twitter are the two main Western social media platforms allowed in the country.