VK is different from Facebook
Yandex and VKontakte: Alternatives to Google & Facebook?
@ LaCatrina-Fotolia / Montage: teltarif.de If you have an Android smartphone, you almost inevitably have a Google account and possibly use the pre-installed Gmail email service. Quite a few users probably also log into Facebook every day to stay in touch with family, friends and colleagues. Anyone looking for information on the Internet usually goes to Google. Perhaps one or the other customer already has a smart speaker from the Internet giant in their living room.
Many people are unlikely to be able to imagine a life without these services in everyday life. After all, they are not only extremely practical, but usually also free of charge. This statement is relative, because the currency on Google and Facebook is of course not dollars, but data. The whole lives of numerous Internet users from Germany lie on servers across the Atlantic, so to speak. A frightening idea, but one that many people have long since come to terms with. After all, there is no competition anyway and, as is well known, you don't look in the mouth of a given horse. But are there really no alternatives than to send your valuable data to the USA?
Look to Russia
@ LaCatrina-Fotolia / Montage: teltarif.de Alternatives to the big American players in the Internet sector are usually not found in Europe. Actually, there are only two other countries that are heavily involved in this area - China and Russia, to be more precise. In Russia in particular, two particularly strong challengers, Yandex and VKontakte, have positioned themselves in recent years, and they want to take on Google and Facebook on a global level.
A healthy skepticism is certainly appropriate here. Those who do not want to send their data to the USA will certainly not feel better about Russia. Because Putin's huge empire is not exactly a role model in the area of data protection and the rule of law in general. The hacker attacks against political institutions in the West alone bring back unpleasant memories. If you take a look at the two great ministries, it quickly becomes apparent that blind trust in the other side can also be problematic.
Around ten years ago, Yandex, which was best known for its search engine of the same name, achieved a market share of 64 percent in Russia and thus plays a decidedly greater role there than Google in other western countries. But the companies are far more similar than you might think at first glance.
Like its American counterpart, Yandex now consists of a veritable conglomerate of various Internet products. At its core, of course, is the search engine, and there is also a browser, map service, email inboxes and its own app store. Even in the field of autonomous driving, Yandex is now involved and can therefore be seen as a (lesser-known) competitor to the Google subsidiary Waymo. Most of the services offered by Yandex are also free and are financed as far as possible through advertising.
It is obvious that Yandex collects customer data, for example to address advertising. That alone would not be the main point of criticism, but it is definitely worth taking a look at the people behind Yandex. The founder and managing director of the company is the Russian computer scientist and multi-billionaire Arkady Volosch, who is said to have extremely close ties to the Kremlin. Volosh is on the US government's so-called "oligarchs list". The list includes names of high-ranking wealthy Russian personalities and entrepreneurs who directly or indirectly benefit economically from the Putin regime. In the past, the US had repeatedly imposed sanctions on these people.
What exactly happens to customer data and information stored on Russian servers is difficult to assess. However, it is very likely that companies like Yandex, unlike Google, are not primarily pursuing economic, but rather political interests.
VKontakte (vk.com) is basically an optical Facebook clone, for which large parts of the Facebook design and the user interface have obviously been "adopted". In Russia, the social network based in Saint Petersburg is already the third most popular website. Of around 100 million active users (as of 2014), most come from Russia and the Ukraine, but VKontakte is now one of the most frequently visited websites in Germany too, and according to the Alexa Internet information service, it made it to 9th place.
The owner of the social network is the Russian investment firm Mail.Ru Group, which in turn is backed by, among others, the Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov. He is also said to have extremely good contacts with the Kremlin, which is why he had to fear US sanctions and withdrew from the operational management of the company.
VKontakte is particularly controversial in Germany. Western security agencies and secret services classify the network as a "safe haven" for right-wing extremists, conspiracy theorists and the Kremlin's propaganda machine. In contrast to Facebook, posts that are considered criminally relevant in Germany are practically not deleted from experience. Experts assume that VKontakte was not simply conceived as a social network, but that it aims to specifically influence members and the culture of discussion in the West. The aim is to destabilize their political systems from within and to install a new hegemony of opinion against liberal values. Despite its increasing popularity, the level of awareness of VKontakte in Europe is still well behind the US market leader.
With Yandex and VKontakte, two powerful opponents have grown to become Google and Facebook. Ultimately, however, one should be aware when using these services that, unlike their American counterparts, they are de facto not subject to any rule of law, have dubious political connections to the Kremlin and there is no knowledge of what happens to users' data on Russian servers happens.
In general, the advice is to always use your own data and information on the Internet sparingly. Especially if the website operator is not based in Germany or the EU.
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