Iron Curtain Instagram: Russian Engineers Clone Zuck’s Photo App

Iron Curtain Instagram: Russian Engineers Clone Zuck’s Photo App
Photo: NurPhoto, Getty Images

Russian developers are preparing to launch their own photo-sharing Instagram clone less than a week after government officials placed Meta’s app behind a digital Iron Curtain that shut the majority of social media out.

Russian entrepreneurs Alexander Zobov and Kirill Filimonov have no illusions about what they’re doing. The two claim their app, “Rossgram,” will serve as “the Russian analogue of Instagram.” Though more specific details around how the app will work remain sparse, the company’s single icon features a font shape and colour scheme nearly identical to Instagram’s.

The new app will reportedly launch on March 28 on Android and iOS and will feature the normal trappings of the original, as well as several new monetisation features, according to a translated version of Rossgram’s website. The app’s official Telegram page claims its developers are also working on a way to roll over Instagram data. Zobov claimed he and a group of developers had been ready for the Russian government’s Instagram ban, according to Reuters.

Iron Curtain Instagram: Russian Engineers Clone Zuck’s Photo App

The prohibition on uploading selfies for likes took effect earlier this week following the opening of a criminal investigation into the company’s policy changes on political violence. In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Meta had revised its policies on violent speech, granting Facebook and Instagram users in Ukraine and other Eastern European countries the wartime freedom to make threats against Russian troops and military officials like Vladamir Putin. Meta’s decision came on the heels of similar policy changes at Twitter days earlier. Meta did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment regarding the Rossgram app.

That policy shift didn’t sit well with Russian government officials, who asked courts to designate Meta as an “extremist organisation.” Nick Clegg, Meta’s President of Global Affairs, released a statement defending the company’s decision at the time, claiming it had “no quarrel” with the Russian people.

“The fact is, if we applied our standard content policies without any adjustments, we would not be removing content from ordinary Ukrainians expressing their resistance and fury at the invading forces, which would rightly be viewed as unacceptable,” Clegg said. “I want to be crystal clear: our policies are focused on protecting people’s rights to speech as an expression of self-defence in reaction to a military invasion of their country.”

Clegg slightly walked back that stance over the weekend in an internal post sent to company employees. In that post, seen by Bloomberg, Clegg reminded employees that the company’s policy does not actually permit calls to assassinate a head of state.

Of course, Meta isn’t the only U.S. tech company with beef against the Russian government. Adobe, Airbnb, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft, have all either suspended sales in the country or significantly altered their policies following Russia’s invasion. Slack, one of the last holdouts, reportedly began cutting off service access to some users in Russia this week. Other companies like Google and Twitter opted to block users’ access to Russia’s state-backed networks like RT and Sputnik.

All told, the Russian App Store has reportedly lost around 6,982 mobile apps since the invasion’s onset, according to Sensor Tower data shared with TechCrunch. That’s up 105% compared with the first two weeks of February. Adding insult to injury, that same report notes Russia’s App Store is reportedly swelling with VPNs, presumably downloaded in Russia attempting to skirt the country’s domestic content restrictions.