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27 Mar 2024

NL Times

Dutch-based co. helps Russia develop facial recognition software used to track & arrest protesters, new investigation shows; incl. co. comments


Dutch Yandex subsidiary helping Russia with facial recognition software, 27 March 2024

Toloka, an Amsterdam-based Yandex subsidiary, is helping develop the facial recognition software Russia uses to massively track and arrest protesters, according to research by Follow the Money, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and Paper Trail Media. The two Russian companies Toloka works with are both on the EU sanctions list.

Shortly after Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny died under shadowy circumstances in a Russian prison, citizens across Russia took to the streets to demonstrate against Vladimir Putin’s regime. Thousands of people also demonstrated on the day of Navalny’s funeral. The Putin regime started arresting people not long after the demonstrations.

According to the Russian human rights organization OVD-Info, the Russian authorities arrested 649 demonstrators after the protests, including at least 19 people identified through camera images. Putin’s regime has a network of 178,000 facial recognition cameras - one of the largest in the world...

The Dutch company Toloka, a subsidiary of the “Russian Google” Yandex, helped train the facial recognition software Russia uses, according to FTM. Toloka, partly located on Schiphol Boulevard in the World Trade Center in Amsterdam, is active in the growing market for data analysis and artificial intelligence...

Toloka did business with two companies within the Moscow surveillance system - Tevian and NTechLab, the investigative journalists concluded based on screen recordings and conversations with people involved. Both NTechLab and Tevian were imposed European sanctions in July 2023 due to involvement in “serious human rights violations in Russia,” including “arbitrary arrests and detentions.” According to FTM, Toloka worked with NTechLab after the sanctions were imposed, and possibly also Tevian...

Toloka told FTM that Tevian and NTechLab had a contract with its Russian branch. It also said that “the amount of work offered through the platform” was “immaterial, both in financial terms and the total number of tasks offered.” Toloka said it does not work with companies that violate the terms of service or use the services provided to them for unethical purposes.

Yandex NV told FTM that none of Toloka’s Swiss, EU, or US entities “have ever provided services to or received payments from NTechLab or Tevian.” The two companies had an agreement with a Russian subsidiary of Yandex, the company said.