Inside the tech war in Ukraine

Tech is playing a critical role in the war between Russia and Ukraine. Companies are extending relief to Ukrainian workers, platforms are blocking Russian ads and state-run media, and governments are taking aim at Russia with sanctions.

Russia and Ukraine are using tech to their advantage, too: Ukraine has used its social media channels to call on the rest of the world for help, while Russia is pushing the platforms to remove unfavorable content and promote the Russian perspective to the world.

Afcacia takes a look at some of the biggest ways platforms, governments and tech companies are responding to the war in Ukraine.

How are tech companies responding to the war in Ukraine?

Samsung said Friday that it has halted product shipments to Russia: A source familiar with the situation told Bloomberg that the company would suspend exports of products such as chips, smartphones and consumer electronics to the country.

Cogent Communications, a U.S.-based internet service provider, is cutting off services to Russian clients. David Schaeffer, Cogent’s CEO, told The Washington Post that the move is to not “empower the Russian government to have another tool in their war chest.”

Microsoft suspended new sales of products and services in Russia. The company has not provided information about how this might financially impact their business, unlike other companies. Halting new sales will ostensibly create hardship for individuals and organizations using products like Azure, Office, and Xbox.

RT America, the Russian government-backed broadcaster, is ceasing operations and laying off most of its staff. The closure follows worldwide backlash against RT over its role in distributing Russian propaganda.

Spotify shut down its office in Russia indefinitely. The platform also took down all content from Russian state news agencies Sputnik and RT.

Mastercard and Visa blocked Russian banks from their networks: The payment giants announced that they are blocking multiple Russian financial institutions as a result of U.S. sanction orders. They have also pledged donations of $2 million each to aid in Ukrainian humanitarian relief.

Elon Musk activated SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet service in Ukraine to limit the disruption of internet access. The terminals to access Starlink internet reportedly arrived in Ukraine Tuesday morning.

Airbnb will provide free housing to 100,000 refugees fleeing Ukraine: CEO Brian Chesky announced on Twitter that the company, which stepped up to help Afghan refugees last summer, is working with hosts to house refugees. The company also suspended operations in Russia and Belarus.

Some companies are severing ties with Russia: Apple is halting product sales in Russia and will take RT and Sputnik, two state-run news services, off its app stores outside of Russia. Apple Maps and Weather also now mark Crimea as part of Ukraine when users access it outside Russia.

DuckDuckGo paused its relationship with Russian search engine Yandex. General Motors and Daimler Truck have also reportedly suspended some business in Russia.

Entertainment and gaming companies are also halting their connections with Russia. Netflix announced that it won’t add any Russian channels to its service, Roku announced that it will remove RT from its channel store, and Disney will pause releasing films in Russia. CD Projekt Group, developer of The Witcher games, halted all sales of its products in Russia and Belarus.

Tech companies rushed to protect their Ukrainian workers: Grammarly was founded in Ukraine, and Google, Snap, Oracle and Ring all have significant Ukrainian workforces. The war has forced tech companies to quickly adopt plans to best support their employees at a terrifying time for Ukrainians.

Wix, Lyft and Uber are helping Ukraine-based employees relocate. Grammarly is securing backup communication methods and will temporarily transfer business-critical responsibilities to team members outside of Ukraine.

How are social media and digital platforms responding to the war in Ukraine?

Meta is offering encrypted Instagram DMs in Russia and Ukraine: Meta’s Nick Clegg announced the new features Tuesday, adding that Instagram will be notifying users that they can switch to encrypted chats. The company will also demote Facebook posts from users who link to Russian state media.

Meta and other tech giants have been rolling out other safety features, too. Twitter’s Safety team began sharing tips on how users can cover their digital tracks to help keep themselves safe. Meta launched a one-click tool for users to lock their Facebook accounts and opened a special operations center.

A few platforms restricted Russian ads and state-run news: Google stopped selling ads in Russia, becoming the biggest company to do so. Meta paused all ads targeting people in Russia, and will no longer run ads anywhere globally from Russian marketers. Meta restricted access to Russian state-run news outlets RT and Sputnik in the EU, and prohibited state-run media from running or monetizing ads on its platforms. Reddit banned links to state-supported Russian media outlets across its site, too.

Twitter and Meta began adding prominent labels to articles shared from Russia-run news organizations.

Messaging app Telegram banned Russian state-run media from its platform. The decision follows pressure from Europe to remove the channels.

Alphabet prohibited RT and Sputnik from the Google Play Store. It also prevented state-run channels from making ad revenue on its platforms, and banned Russian media from buying ads through Google Tools and running ads on Google services.

TikTok also joined the fray, confirming to the Washington Post on Monday that it would ban state-backed news organizations from accessing their accounts.

Chinese social media platforms are also trying to stop fake news about Ukraine. Platforms like Douyin and Weibo have been scrambling to remove accounts spreading misinformation and making warmongering remarks and vulgar jokes, including some content that seems to have endangered Chinese nationals stranded in Ukraine.

How are governments responding to the war in Ukraine?

Ukraine & Russia:

When platforms restrict Russia, Russia restricts back. Roskomnadzor, Russia’s communications regulator, restricted access to Facebook within the country on Friday. The agency announced last week that it would “partially restrict” the platform as an act of retaliation for fact-checking and labeling posts

Russian news agency Interfax said Friday that state communications regulator Roskomnadzor has also started blocking access to Twitter. But Twitter denied this, saying “We’re aware of reports, but we don’t currently see anything significantly different from what we previously shared that would point to a block.”

After initially saying no to crypto, Ukraine actually will take crypto donations. The Ukrainian government and a nonprofit supporting the country’s military have received over $22 million worth of digital assets since allowing crypto donations last weekend.

Ukraine wants to kick Russia offline. The country wants ICANN to cut Russia off from the global computer network. ICANN rejected its request Wednesday.

Russia won’t sell rocket engines to the United States anymore. The move would mostly affect the United Launch Alliance, a launch provider for NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense, and Northrop Grumman, which sends cargo to the International Space Station.

Ukraine is embroiled in a meme war with Russia. Ukraine has posted a lot of memes and sarcastic lines about Russia on its Twitter account recently, but that’s nothing new. Experts think it’s a soft power tool the country is using to assert its sovereignty from Russia to the rest of the world.

The rest of the world:

What you need to know about SWIFT: EU leaders want to work with the U.S., Canada, France, Germany and Italy to remove some Russian banks from SWIFT and freeze Russia’s central bank assets. The main idea behind the ban is to stop Russia from operating its finances globally.
The world’s biggest container lines stopped cargo shipments to and from Russia, including MSC, Denmark’s Maersk and France’s CMA CGM.

The war in Ukraine could cause major chip issues: The White House wants to cut off Russia’s access to chips, which could have a ripple effect on the rest of the world. But another big chip shortage is top of mind.

The cyber risks are also real: The war has raised the possibility that a major cyberattack could affect U.S. and European systems, even though the fighting so far hasn’t spilled far outside of Ukraine’s borders. Both the Kremlin and cybercriminals allied with Russia will likely step up their attacks as the war continues.

NASA and Russia’s space station partnership is at risk: The International Space Station has long been a sign of collaboration among countries, Russia included. But those relationships have gotten strained as of late, especially amid sanctions that would “degrade” Russia’s space program.

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