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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mamut Buys LiveJournal Site

VedomostiAlexander Mamut
Alexander Mamut's media firm SUP said Monday that it had acquired LiveJournal, one of the world's most popular blogging and social networking web sites, from Six Apart, its longtime U.S. business partner.

The acquisition of LiveJournal by Mamut, a Kremlin-friendly businessman, prompted fears from some users that the site would come under increased supervision, possibly from state security agencies.

LiveJournal.ru, which has been run by SUP under license since 2006, allows users to post diary-like entries, as well as political discussion and gossip.

Andrew Paulson, president and co-owner of SUP, said Monday in a statement that he saw "enormous potential in developing the business -- which has already showed its durability in America -- worldwide. We believe this is a great opportunity."

SUP will continue to operate the web site, which has 18 million visitors monthly, from the United States and has launched a new U.S. company, LiveJournal, Inc., based in San Francisco for that purpose, the company said in a separate statement Monday.

A source familiar with the deal said Monday that SUP had paid as much as $300 million on the acquisition, but company representatives contacted on Monday declined to confirm or deny the figures, citing financial confidentiality.

As the Kremlin has extended the reach of state-controlled media in recent years, blogging services such as LiveJournal have assumed a greater role as an unofficial way to express political views, much like a "kitchen-table" discussion during Soviet times.

Since 2005, diaries on controversial figures such as Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Anatoly Chubais have sporadically appeared on the LiveJournal.ru web site, posted by their admirers.

The izbiratel_msk diary, which also appeared on the web site in 2005, was a prominent feature of that year's Moscow City Duma elections, serving as a kind of repository for comments criticizing the United Russia party.

In the run-up to Sunday's State Duma elections, some LiveJournal bloggers used diaries and blogs to highlight what they saw as the less palatable aspects of the campaign, and some posted parodies of United Russia's posters and slogans.

Experts said the acquisition of such a popular web site by Kremlin-friendly Alexander Mamut has rekindled fears that it could be hijacked by those with political agendas during the coming presidential election, thereby endangering freedom of expression.

Mamut's business interests include insurance, investment banking and telecommunications. Forbes Russia this year estimated his fortune at $950 million.

"LiveJournal is the last resort for those who want to write about their private life, hobbies and personal interests, but also their political preferences," said Konstantin Belov, a media analyst at UralSib. "Its popularity makes it an inevitable target for politicians willing to impose their views on millions of users."

When speculation swirled last year that Six Apart had sold LiveJournal to SUP, Russian users of the site in the United States swamped the owners with e-mails, expressing fears that their private data could end up being viewed by Russian intelligence services.

In response, the owners of the web site reassured users that its database would remain in the United States and that the company was not for sale.

Marina Pustilnik, 30, an active LiveJournal user and contributor to The Moscow News, said she was unfazed by security agencies sometimes prying into whatever information was put in online diaries or blogs.

"If they really need to collect intelligence about you, they have many ways of doing so anyway," Pustilnik said. "Anyone afraid of Big Brother should not put sensitive information online in the first place."

Vycheslav Kuteyev, a daily LiveJournal blogger, said he expected that the new owner would introduce legal changes to make information more secure.

"You really don't know what becomes of your blogs at the moment, and the legal framework is still pretty unclear," he said.

SUP strategy director Eduard Shenderovich insisted Monday that LiveJournal could never be turned into a tool for politicians wishing to capitalize on its popularity.

"Alexander Mamut is not the only owner of LiveJournal. He is a shrewd businessman and not a politician," Shenderovich said. "His company is committed to keeping users' data safe and justifying their trust in LiveJournal."

Legally, LiveJournal will continue to be a U.S. company governed by Californian law, Shenderovich said, adding that the company's staff in Moscow and California would continue to work to keep users' data safe.

He said a new LiveJournal advisory board had just been formed, comprising both industry experts and members of the LiveJournal community, including founder Brad Fitzpatrick, who recently left Six Apart for Google.