Silicon Valley boycotts Russia over Ukraine invasion

CEO Tim Cook speaks during an Apple event at the company’s headquarters in Cupertino, California on September 10, 2019.

stephen | Reuters

Silicon Valley’s biggest tech companies have made it harder for Russians to access some of the world’s most used technologies as President Vladimir Putin continues his invasion of Ukraine.

Many actions have been taken in accordance with the sanctions imposed by the US government.

Apple got the ball rolling on Tuesday by announcing it would halt sales in Russia of iPhones, iPads, MacBooks, Macs and all other products.

“They’re leading the way,” Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight, told CNBC, adding that this puts pressure on rival companies to follow.

The Cupertino-based company also said it has removed state-backed Russian media outlets RT News and Sputnik News from its App Store worldwide, except for Russia.

Google also removed the two news outlets from its Play Store in Europe.

The Mountain View search giant told CNBC on Friday that it was also suspending all advertising in Russia.

The decision comes after Russian internet watchdog Roskomnadzor accused YouTube, a division of Google, of running large advertising campaigns to misinform Russians about the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Given the extraordinary circumstances, we are suspending Google ads in Russia, a Google spokesperson said.

“The situation is evolving rapidly and we will continue to share updates as appropriate,” they added.

Meanwhile, home-sharing platform Airbnb announced it was suspending all operations in Russia and Belarus.

Brian Chesky, CEO and co-founder of the company, announced the move on Twitter Thursday evening, three days after Airbnb noted it will provide free temporary accommodation to 100,000 refugees fleeing Ukraine.

Further up the West Coast in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft is also pulling out of Russia.

Microsoft President Brad Smith said in a blog Friday that the company will “suspend all new sales of Microsoft products and services in Russia” and stop “many aspects of our business in Russia in accordance with government sanctions orders.” Microsoft did not say how and if it plans to continue supporting existing customers in Russia.

The question now is how far will the tech giants go?

Earlier this week, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov called on Apple CEO Tim Cook to finish the job and block access to the App Store in Russia.

He also urged Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation to stop supporting Russian markets and “temporarily block all Russian and Belarusian accounts”.

Meta said he hoped to stay online in Russia so he could help counter the propaganda being shared on his platform.

“We believe disabling our services would silence an important expression at a crucial time,” Nick Clegg, the company’s newly appointed vice president of global affairs, wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

Chinese tech companies, meanwhile, have been particularly quiet. Companies such as Huawei, Xiaomi and Alibaba declined to comment when contacted by CNBC about whether they would reduce operations in Russia.

TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, is one of the only Chinese companies to have taken action. TikTok said it would restrict access to RT and Sputnik in the European Union.

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