“Big Tech” enters the Russo-Ukrainian War
The media has widely reported on the military aid Ukraine has, or will, receive from a host of countries and also the economic sanctions imposed against Russia. However, what has been underreported in the war is the role of tech companies. Despite many of them being under attack from U.S. lawmakers, they very quickly entered the war’s fray and are poised to make a notable impact as they assist the Ukrainians.
While tech companies do not manufacture traditional weapons of war, they have still found vital roles to play—restricting the proliferation of Russo-Ukrainian War propaganda and disinformation, and providing valuable resources to the Ukrainians.
Perhaps one of the most important tech contributions thus far came from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in the form of Starlink, which is a satellite service intended to provide broadband internet to areas lacking infrastructure. The Ukrainians understandably feared that the Russians might attempt to interrupt their communications, and they appealed to Musk on Twitter to expand Starlink’s coverage to Ukraine.
Roughly 10 hours later, Musk responded, “Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals en route.” The terminals have since arrived, and thanks to Musk, many Ukrainians will have unfettered access to the internet largely independent of foreign interference.
Google has likewise been active in Ukraine. The tech giant is currently involved in many endeavors, but one is quite possibly lifesaving. Years ago, Google developed the application Maps, which is on millions of phones across the globe, but it is more than just a GPS app. It also provides real-time traffic data, but Google has temporarily blocked this feature in Ukraine to protect its people. Otherwise, anyone who wanted to use the app could determine where people were congregated and use this information to inflict harm.
Microsoft has been thrown into the middle of the conflict too. Very early, Ukraine faced serious malware attacks against its government and banking institutions. These came from a novel piece of “wiper” malware, which when executed, can erase data from computers. Within three hours, Microsoft leapt into action, identified the culprit and updated its virus definitions—rendering the potentially devastating malware impotent.
Meanwhile, Google, Facebook and Twitter have been combatting what they’ve deemed disinformation and propaganda. Google-owned YouTube and Facebook have restricted access to Russian state media, including RT and Sputnik, and blocked them from running ads on their platforms, and Twitter decided to suspend paid ads in both Russia and Ukraine.
What’s more, Facebook identified and “took down” a network of bad actors who were targeting Ukraine. “They ran websites posing as independent news entities and created fake personas across many social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Telegram, Odnoklassniki and VK,” reads a statement from Meta, Facebook’s parent company. Russia has since cut off its citizens’ access to Facebook.
Even mobile payment and digital wallet services Apple Pay and Google Pay are factoring into the Ukrainian war effort. According to the Central Bank of Russia, “Cards issued by several Russian banks that have been hit by sanctions are unable to use Apple Pay and Google Pay services.” As a result, “Those banks’ customers [won’t] be able to use their cards abroad, or to make online payments to companies registered in countries that have issued sanctions.” This ensures that the economic sanctions on Russia sting that much more. To top this off, Apple—and many other companies—announced that it will pause the sale of any of its products within Russia.
I have no doubt that American officials have been asking tech firms to ramp up their efforts to aid Ukraine, which is a curious turn of events. After all, U.S. lawmakers and attorneys general have been obsessed with breaking up and overregulating tech companies. In fact, Congress has been mulling efforts to remove liability protections for social media giants, which could impact whether or not they could censor disinformation, attorneys general have filed anti-trust suits against Google, and Congress and numerous states have introduced legislation to reorient and limit how tech companies can generate revenue.
Each of these efforts represents a possible existential threat to large tech firms, but despite this, they have answered the call to assist Ukraine. While it remains to be seen how the conflict will be resolved, “Big Tech” has emerged as another tool in Ukraine’s defense.
Image credit: Yingyaipumi