How are the big tech companies responding to the invasion of Ukraine? | Science & Tech News

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has sparked outcry and sanctions, but the direct power to shape human destiny in the 21st Century doesn’t lie with governments alone.

From social media platforms being used for information warfare to software companies defending customers from state-sponsored cyber attacks, the invasion has highlighted how critical technology companies are in times of conflict.

They are also potential levers of influence. Ukraine’s digital minister Mykhailo Federov has called on a number of companies, including Netflix, to block their services in Russia.

Read more: Could Russia turn to cryptocurrency and cyber crime to dodge sanctions?

Many argued in response that keeping their services available was the best way to inform Russians about the invasion, but some have been pulled and others are being monitored for manipulation.

In alphabetical order, here’s how they are responding:

Photo by: STRF/STAR MAX/IPx 2020 12/9/20 airbnb to launch their IPO later this month. 12/9/20 An airbnb logo shot off an iphone 6s.
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Airbnb said it will help house up to 100,000 fleeing Ukrainians


Airbnb

Airbnb’s chief executive Brian Chesky said the company was suspending all operations in Russia and Belarus.

Earlier this week Mr Chesky said the company would work with hosts to help house up to 100,000 Ukrainians forced to flee their homes and would waive all booking fees in the country.

He called for people “in nearby countries, including Poland, Germany, Hungary and Romania” to offer in their homes using the platform.

A girl walks past the Apple logo outside an Apple store in Shanghai, China on Monday July 2, 2012. Apple has paid $60 million to settle a dispute in China over ownership of the iPad name, a court announced Monday, removing a potential obstacle to sales of the popular tablet computer in the key Chinese market.   (AP Photo) CHINA OUT
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Apple has paused sales in Russia following the invasion

Apple

In a statement Apple said: “We are deeply concerned about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and stand with all of the people who are suffering as a result of the violence.”

The company said it has “paused all product sales” in Russia while “Apple Pay and other services have been limited”.

In Ukraine, the company has “disabled both traffic and live incidents in Apple Maps… as a safety and precautionary measure for Ukrainian citizens” amid concerns that Russia could attack locations where large groups were gathering.

Outside of Russia the company has removed the apps for RT and Sputnik from the App Store.

FIFA 21 is among EA Sport's most successful games
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Electronic Arts has stopped all sales to Russia and Belarus

Electronic Arts

In its statement Electronic Arts, the gaming company behind the FIFA titles, said: “We stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.”

The company said it will stop sales of its games and content in Russia and Belarus while the conflict continues.

“We are also working with our platform partners to remove our titles from their stores and stop the sale of new in-game content in the region,” the company said.

SEPTEMBER 2nd 2021: The U.S. Department of Justice is preparing to sue Google over its advertising technology business practices citing antitrust violations. - File Photo by: zz/John Nacion/STAR MAX/IPx 2020 10/14/20 Google offices in Chelsea, Midtown Manhattan, New York City on October 14, 2020 during the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. (NYC)
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Google said it had experience battling Russian-backed hackers

Google

In a statement Google said: “The Russian invasion of Ukraine is both a tragedy and a humanitarian disaster in the making.”

In Ukraine the company has updated its Search and Maps services to provide alerts to UN resources for people searching for refugee and asylum information.

Similar to Apple, the company has also disabled some live Google Maps features in the country “including the traffic layer and information about how busy places are, to help protect the safety of local communities and their citizens”.

Google said it had been taking action against “Russia-backed hacking and influence operations” for years and was continuing to automatically increase Google account security protections.

Read more: Cyber, war and Ukraine – What does recent history teach us to expect?

It said it was also providing protection against DDoS attacks for more than 100 Ukrainian websites, including local news services.

The company has blocked the YouTube channels connected to RT and Sputnik across Europe – including the UK, which is not covered by the European Union restrictions – and has banned RT from monetising its content on any of its advertising platforms.

In Russia, the company said most of its services would remain available, helping people there access global information and perspectives beyond those of state-controlled media.

Facebook has rebranded to Meta
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Meta has taken action against information warfare groups

Meta

Meta said: “In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, our teams have been on high alert to identify emerging threats and respond as quickly as we can.”

It has blocked access to RT and Sputnik across the EU and following a request from Nadine Dorries is also blocking access to them in the UK.

Facebook and Instagram are globally demoting content from the Russian state-controlled media outlets, as well as fact-checking posts about the conflict.

Nick Clegg said Meta was facing restrictions in Russia as a result of refusing the Kremlin’s demands to stop fact-checking and labelling posts.

Meta added it has also been uncovering information warfare networks which had been operating fictitious personas and brands across the internet and taking down their accounts.

It added it is seeing “increased targeting of people in Ukraine, including Ukrainian military and public figures” by a hacking group which the security community believes has Belarussian and Russian links, and warned the hackers were sending friend requests using its social platforms.

Additional account privacy and security protections have been rolled out in Ukraine and are being added to Russia as well “in response to public reports of targeting of civil society and protesters”, the company added.

Some Microsoft investors have raised concerns about 'the culture set by top leadership' in the company. Pic: AP
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Microsoft has supported the Ukrainian government against cyber attacks

Microsoft

In its statement Microsoft said it was “following closely the tragic, unlawful and unjustified invasion of Ukraine” and was working to support humanitarian organisations.

It has stopped all new sales of products and services in Russia as of Friday.

The company said it has been and will continue to detect and advise the Ukrainian government about cyber attacks targeting the country’s digital infrastructure.

Read more: Should UK be worried about an escalating cyber conflict?

“We remain especially concerned about recent cyberattacks on Ukrainian civilian digital targets, including the financial sector, agriculture sector, emergency response services, humanitarian aid efforts, and energy sector organisations and enterprises,” the company said.

Microsoft added that it was removing the RT news apps from the Windows App Store and de-ranking RT and Sputnik on Bing, as well as banning all of their advertisements from its networks.

New measures to curb password sharing are being tested by Netflix. Pic: AP
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Netflix is refusing to include propaganda channels as required by a new Russian law. Pic: AP

Netflix

Netflix hasn’t issued a statement regarding the conflict, but is estimated to have approximately a million subscribers in Russia.

A recently passed Russian law which came into effect on 1 March means the American platform is now required to include 20 government-controlled television stations among its streaming services.

However in the context of the invasion of Ukraine this has not yet been implemented.

A spokesperson for Netflix told Sky News: “Given the current situation, we have no plans to add these channels to our service.”

Netflix had previously launched original programming in Russia including Anna K, a contemporary retelling of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

However Sky News understands that Netflix has now halted all Russian productions and acquisitions.

FILE PHOTO: The Snapchat app logo is seen on a smartphone in this picture illustration taken September 15, 2017. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration//File Photo
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Snapchat said it stood in solidarity with its Ukrainian colleagues

Snap

Snap said: “We stand in solidarity with our Ukrainian team members and the people of Ukraine who are fighting for their lives and for their freedom.”

The company’s augmented reality features are based on technology from a Ukrainian company called Looksery which it acquired in 2015 and Snap said Ukraine has been the home of more than 300 of its team members.

It said it had stopped all advertising running in Russia, Ukraine and even Belarus as a result of the conflict.

It was also halting advertising sales to all Russian and Belarusian organisations. The company said it does not accept revenue from Russian state-owned entities.

The Snapchat app will continue to be available in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia “as it remains an important communications tool for family and friends” buy the company will continue to monitor for disinformation and other misuse.

“Ukraine is a nation whose incredible potential is helping to shape a more positive future for the world and we will not waver in our solidarity,” the company’s statement concluded.

Telegram messaging app
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Telegram messaging app

Telegram

A spokesperson for Telegram, the social media platform founded in Russia although now legally based in the British Virgin Islands, told Sky News they were complying with the EU’s legal request to ban RT and Sputnik.

According to a POLITCO Europe report, RT channels in English, Spanish, German, and French were still active on the platform this morning.

Telegram sent Sky News a list of channels associated with RT which it said have now been blocked in the EU. Sky News was unable to immediately verify the blocks.

But the company confirmed to POLITICO that the blocks only affect those with an EU-based phone number, not for anyone geographically located in the European Union.

European Commissioner for values and transparency Vera Jourova tweeted in response: “The rules are clear. There cannot be any circumvention of the law. Member States should make sure the sanctions are applied.”

TikTok rose to popularity after it launched globally in 2018 but has come under fire for its data collection practices
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TikTok said it was continuing to monitor harmful misinformation

TikTok

TikTok has not released an official statement regarding the conflict.

The company has banned RT and Sputnik in the EU following the legal instruction by Ursula von der Leyen.

Regarding disinformation and harmful misinformation, a spokesperson told Sky News it was continuing to monitor and dedicate “increased resources to the situation as it evolves”.

Twitter. Pic: AP
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Twitter banned RT and Sputnik following their alleged election interference

Twitter

Twitter said it was “actively monitoring for risks associated with the conflict in Ukraine, including identifying and disrupting attempts to amplify false and misleading information”.

The company had already banned RT and Sputnik from running advertisements following allegations over Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election in the US.

It added that it has temporarily paused all advertisements in Ukraine and Russia.

Similarly to Meta, Twitter labels the posts of media outlets sponsored by the Russian state. The company said it was aware the site was being restricted in Russia as a result.

This included monitoring high-profile accounts, “including journalists, activists, and government officials and agencies to mitigate any attempts at a targeted takeover or manipulation”.

It has also withheld content on RT and Sputnik for users within the EU, and says outside of the EU it will “focus on de-amplifying this type of state-affiliated media content”.

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