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Facebook, Apple and other tech giants face growing pressure on Ukraine

Facebook, Apple and other tech giants face growing pressure on Ukraine

US tech giants are under pressure from Russia and the West to respond to the conflict in Ukraine, underscoring their power over global discourse, but also intensifying a recent trend in which their companies are squeezed by geopolitical events.

Analysts say the dispute could accelerate the divide of the internet, which not so long ago was largely divided between China and the rest of the world. Increasingly, big tech companies are beholden to a patchwork of local rules, leading some to believe that splinternet is getting closer to reality.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian authorities restricted access to metaplatforms Inc.

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Facebook products, alleging that it was blocking access to Russian media. Facebook said it fact-checked and labeled information from state media and later said it would ban Russian state media from running ads on its platform. Twitter Inc.

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also said that access to its site had been restricted.

YouTube said it would suspend the ability of several Russian channels to monetize and limit recommendations to them, after U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.) wrote to Alphabet. Inc.

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unit, as well as other major tech companies, urging them to do more to combat Russian influence operations. Alphabet’s Google has taken similar steps to block monetization on its platforms by state-funded Russian media.

Demonstrations have erupted in Russia and around the world in recent days to denounce Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Photo: Denis Kaminev/Associated Press

Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials called Apple Inc.

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to deny Russia access to its App Store.

“We need your support – in 2022 modern technology is perhaps the best answer to tanks, multiple rocket launchers…and missiles,” Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov wrote in a statement. letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Mr Cook said in a tweet that he was deeply concerned about the conflict and that Apple supported local humanitarian efforts. The company also declined to comment.


Fighting intensifies in Kiev during Russian invasion of Ukraine

Ukrainian authorities have ordered Kyiv residents to stay indoors until Monday morning as they hunt down Russian infiltrators

On Sunday, members of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces prepared Molotov cocktails in Kyiv.

MIKHAIL PALINCHAK/REUTERS

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Representatives from Facebook, YouTube and Twitter said they continue to monitor the situation and may take further action. Nick Clegg, president of global business at Meta, captured the face of balancing platforms, saying the company wants Facebook’s apps to continue to provide a place where people can “raise their voices, share what going on and getting organised”.

The Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Last year, authorities in at least 48 countries imposed new rules on tech companies about content, data or competition, according to Freedom House, a nonprofit group that tracks the global state of democracy. and internet policy. The politicians allowed Nigerian authorities to block Twitter after they deleted a post by the country’s president on secessionist groups deemed threatening. The more assertive policies were also seen in India’s banning of video app TikTok, a subsidiary of Chinese company ByteDance Ltd., after a border skirmish with China.

The pressure goes beyond social media platforms. Last year Russia ranked Netflix Inc.

as an audiovisual provider, a move that could force it to start offering state TV channels to its roughly 1 million subscribers in the country, according to the Moscow Times. This was a consequence of an internet sovereignty law passed in 2019 that gave the government more control over Russian user content.

According to analysts, former executives and legal scholars, the changing landscape has reduced sales and reduced profits by forcing companies to increase spending to comply with local laws. They said the phenomenon has restricted some internet users’ access to services and information, and forced companies to consider whether to subscribe to broadly American freedom of information values ​​or adhere to local laws that are often in conflict. conflict with these principles.

“It’s been going on for decades and it’s getting worse because countries are getting tougher and tougher on content,” said David Kaye, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine and author of “Speech Police: The Global Struggle to Govern”. the Internet.”

Europe’s biggest war in 80 years has now revived a decades-old term for rising digital nationalism – “the splinternet”, in which local laws and policies have created a series of national internets.

The effect is a drag on businesses as margins are squeezed as more staff are hired, said Brian Wieser, advertising industry analyst at GroupM. “A few thousand employees could operate the products, but countries that impose obligations make that impossible,” Wieser said.

Google reported that the number of government requests it receives to remove content has increased fivefold since 2015 to around 50,000 requests per year. Facebook reported a nearly 40% increase in requests over the same period to around 90,000 requests for the year ending June 2021.

Although Russia is unique in having a local social network, VK, and a search engine, Yandex, with more market share than Facebook and Google, it is still an important market for these and other companies. technology companies. Google and Apple have operations and employees on the ground.

In the months leading up to his invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to better control these companies by enacting a policy requiring companies with at least 500,000 people to open offices in Russia that would be liable for violations of his laws. .

“This potentially creates a hostage situation for staff,” said Daphne Keller, a member of Stanford University’s Cyber ​​Policy Center and former associate general counsel at Google. She said policies like Russia’s have also widened the debate within countries, from what content should be taken down to what content should stay in place.

As an example, she cited a report that the Russian internet agency this week demanded that Google unblock the channel of a separatist leader in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, even as US sanctions suggested such channels were removed.

“It’s a weird standoff,” she said.

Nu Wexler, a former political communications staffer at Google, Facebook and Twitter, said some companies might ignore demands and rules in smaller countries with weaker ad markets. “When it’s a big country with a big advertising market and employees in that country, it’s a harder calculation,” he said.

The problem also creates tensions within companies. At Google, staff posted on the company’s internal messaging system what could be done to support Ukraine in the wake of the invasion. Someone has offered to remove Russian state-backed media channel RT from YouTube, according to people familiar with the publication.

A Google spokeswoman declined to say whether this would remove RT globally. It has restricted access to the channel in Ukraine and may take further action, she said.

Write to Tripp Mickle at [email protected] and Meghan Bobrowsky at [email protected]

Corrections & Amplifications
David Kay is a professor of law at the University of California at Irvine. An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled her last name as Kay. Separately, Facebook has no employees on the ground in Russia. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that this was the case. (Corrected February 26 and 27)

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