Google, Meta, Apple, others target Russia following Ukraine invasion
The Russian Federation started an attack against the nation of Ukraine on Thursday, with the publicly-stated goal of demilitarizing Ukraine and preventing it from joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and other international defense and economic organizations. The attack has been harshly criticized by many governments, companies, and individuals around the world, and the technology industry is no exception.
Social networks, video services, and other content platforms are targeting Russian news organizations that have shared and promoted government propaganda, namely RT (formerly Russia Today) and Sputnik, either of their own accord or in compliance with new international sanctions. The official Twitter account for Google Europe confirmed in a tweet on Tuesday that it was blocking YouTube channels connected to both countries across Europe. Meta (the parent company of Facebook) and TikTok have also restricted access to RT and Sputnik across the European Union in the past few days. Microsoft confirmed it was removing the RT app from the Microsoft Store, as well as pulling RT and Sputnik from Microsoft Start and MSN.com. Apple also pulled those apps from its App Store.
However, other shutdowns or outages have been aimed at anyone living in Russia. Payment cards issued by several Russian banks (VTB Group, Sovcombank, Novikombank, Promsvyazbank, and Otkritie) are no longer accessible through Apple Pay and Google Pay due to international sanctions. VTB Group reportedly manages the contactless cards for Moscow’s metros, buses, and trams, which is likely the reason for reported disruptions in Russia’s public transport. Apple also stopped all hardware sales in Russia on Tuesday.
Apple Pay and Google Pay no longer work on Moscow’s metro system, leading to long queues as people fumble about for cash pic.twitter.com/ezaLZneKiJ
— Jason Corcoran (@jason_corcoran) February 28, 2022
Breaking on @theterminal: Apple stops all product sales in Russia, stops exports to Russia sales channels, is pulling RT News and Sputnik News from App Stores outside of Russia, and is disabling traffic and live incidents in Apple Maps in Ukraine.
— Mark Gurman (@markgurman) March 1, 2022
Namecheap, a popular domain registrar and hosting provider, is terminating services for customers based in Russia after March 22 (extended from the original date of March 6 to avoid service disruptions). The company told its Russian customers in an email, “While we sympathize that this war may not affect your own views or opinion on the matter, the fact is, your authoritarian government is committing human rights abuses and engaging in war crimes so this is a policy decision we have made and will stand by.” Much of Namecheap’s team is based in Ukraine, and as of Tuesday, the company had more than 30 job openings available in the country.
The Mobile World Congress trade show is currently underway in Barcelona (see our MWC 2022 page for coverage), and before the event started, organizers confirmed “a handful” of Russian companies and executives would be banned. GSMA chief executive John Hoffman told Reuters, “We are guided by the international sanctions and there are some companies that are identified on the sanction list and those will be barred from participating.” Nokia CEO Pekka Lundmark started the company’s MWC press conference by saying, “It’s almost absurd to be talking to you today about almost anything else while there is a war going on in Europe.”
— Sam Shead is @ MWC (@Sam_L_Shead) March 1, 2022
The actions haven’t been entirely one-way, either. Microsoft says it detected a “new round of offensive and destructive cyberattacks directed against Ukraine’s digital infrastructure” starting on February 24, and the company is working with the Ukrainian government to prevent critical systems from shutting down. Other companies are attempting to step in with infrastructure aid as well — satellite internet provider Starlink recently provided Ukraine with receivers to help maintain internet access.
Russia’s attack on Ukraine is still ongoing, and new sanctions are arriving at a rapid rate, and we’ll likely see more services and tech products cut off from Russia over the coming days and weeks.