News

: How Big Tech is supporting Ukraine, from halting sales and ads in Russia to fighting misinformation

Apple Inc. confirmed Tuesday that it has “paused” product sales in Russia, calling it just one of the actions it is taking as companies face calls to sanction the country for its invasion of Ukraine.

The tech giant also said it has limited Apple Pay and other services in Russia; stopped all exports into its sales channel in Russia; and is no longer making Russian news apps RT News and Sputnik News available in its App Store outside Russia. In addition, Apple
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has disabled both traffic and live incidents in Apple Maps in Ukraine as a precautionary measure for the safety of Ukrainian citizens, a company spokesman said in an email.

“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 spokesman said, adding that the company is continuing “to evaluate the situation and are in communication with relevant governments on the actions we are taking.”

Tom Forte, an analyst for investment firm D.A. Davidson, said Tuesday that Apple and some of the world’s other giant tech companies face a challenging situation.

“It’s a challenge for them on one hand to try to maximize sales and profits and on the other hand try to be good corporate stewards, or do what they think is appropriate given the current conflict,” he said, though he added that he didn’t think Apple would be materially affected by its decision to pause sales in Russia.

Apple’s Russian subsidiary had revenue of 260 billion rubles in 2020, the equivalent of $3.1 billion, according to data from Statista.

Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov publicly urged Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook and other tech companies to stop doing business with Russia late last week. A spokeswoman on Tuesday said that they had “direct contact with Tim Cook; he totally supports Ukraine.”

“We are more than grateful for these sanctions,” she said in an email. “We do believe that this will push Russian people to protest against this regime.”

Forte said that given Cook’s leadership and Apple’s status as a leading global company, “Apple is well positioned for this debate” over corporate responsibility during a situation such as this, and possibly future global conflicts.

Calling Cook “part CEO and part diplomat,” Forte said the Apple CEO is one of the executives “on the shortlist of who has the ear of the U.S. president and the head of China.”

See: FIFA suspends Russia from the World Cup ‘until further notice’

Other Big Tech firms are also taking action. Google’s president of global affairs said in a blog post that the Alphabet Inc.
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company on Tuesday started blocking YouTube channels connected to RT and Sputnik across Europe. Kent Walker said that’s in addition to the company’s “indefinite pause” of letting Russian state media monetize content or advertise on any of its platforms.

Walker also said Google Pay “may become unavailable in certain countries” amid sanctions against individuals, regions and banks. Google Search, Maps, YouTube and other services provided by Google remain available in Russia, though Walker added that the company may take additional action as it continues to monitor the situation.

Ann Skeet, senior director for leadership ethics at Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, said that for these tech companies, “it’s a remarkable tipping point in the last 48 hours to accepting responsibility.”

“I’m heartened to see them using ethics to make decisions. Ethics is about helping humans thrive,” Skeet said. “Here, it appears to be a clear-cut decision on what needs to be done to help humans thrive.”

Other tech companies that have talked about their actions related to the invasion include Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook
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Twitter Inc.
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Microsoft Corp.
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and, reportedly, Netflix Inc.
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Facebook said late Monday that it has restricted access to RT and Sputnik in Ukraine and across the European Union in response to requests from “a number of governments.” The company also said it would be demoting content from Russian media outlets on Facebook and Instagram, and will begin labeling them as state-controlled.

Snap said Tuesday that it has stopped ad sales to Russian and Belarusian entities, and that it has halted running ads in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. “We continue to offer the Snapchat application in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia as it remains an important communications tool for family and friends,” the company said in a blog post.

On Monday, Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote in a blog post that the company will not be displaying RT and Sputnik content on its websites and de-ranking the sites’ search results on Bing, as well as banning ads from the state-controlled media outlets across its ad network.

See: DirecTV will pull RT channel from its lineup

Also Monday, Netflix said it would not be complying with Russian rules that would’ve required it to stream 20 Russian-backed TV stations starting Tuesday, according to Politico.

Twitter, which last week paused advertising in Russia and Ukraine, told MarketWatch over the weekend that it was aware that it was being restricted in Russia, but that it was working to keep its service accessible. It denied claims by Fedorov that it had restricted access or registrations in Russia.

MarketWatch staff writer Jon Swartz contributed to this article.

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