Apple takes strong stand on Russia as global tech response grows

2 Mar 2022

Apple CEO Tim Cook. Image: Fortune Photo/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Apple has halted product sales in Russia and removed RT from the App Store globally, while Snap, Google and others have also issued new responses.

Joining the global tech response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with some of the harshest measures of any US tech company, Apple has stopped the sale of its products in Russia.

In a statement yesterday (1 March), Apple said it was “deeply concerned” about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and stands with the people who are “suffering as result of the violence”.

As well as halting product sales, Apple is removing the RT and Sputnik apps from its App Store globally – a step further than Google, which has removed apps from the Russian state-backed media organisation in Europe only.

The iPhone maker has also disabled traffic and live features in Apple Maps in Ukraine “as a safety and precautionary measure for Ukrainian citizens” and limited some of its other services, including Apple Pay, in Russia.

“We are supporting humanitarian efforts, providing aid for the unfolding refugee crisis, and doing all we can to support our teams in the region,” the company added in the statement.

In the immediate aftermath of the invasion last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted to extend his support for the Ukrainian people and said that he was “thinking of the people who are right now in harm’s way and joining all those calling for peace”.

However, Apple stopped short of giving into Ukrainian vice prime minister Mykhailo Fedorov’s request to block access to the App Store to Russian citizens.

Snap, Google and others

US social media company Snap, the creator of Snapchat, also chimed into the global response with a strong statement and set of measures in response to Russia’s aggressions.

The company, whose animated lenses feature on Snapchat was built by the Ukrainian company Looskery that it acquired in 2015, said it is halting all ads in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

Snap said it is complying with all sanctions targeting Russian businesses and individuals and also announced $15m in humanitarian aid “to support organisations providing relief in Ukraine”.

“[Ukraine] has been the home of more than 300 of Snap’s most creative and talented team members,” the company wrote in a statement. “We stand in solidarity with our Ukrainian team members and the people of Ukraine who are fighting for their lives and for their freedom.”

Google also announced new measures it is taking in response to the Ukraine crisis, including $15m in donations from and company employees.

The company has updated Google Search to include an SOS alert across Ukraine, meaning that “when people search refugee and evacuation information, they will see an alert pointing them to United Nations resources for refugees and asylum seekers”.

Google Maps now also comes with information on refugee and migrant centres in neighbouring countries such as Poland, Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.

The Alphabet-owned company said it has cracked down on disinformation campaigns and bolstered its security efforts for services in the region, making Google accounts more secure as Ukraine is subjected to cyberattacks from Russia.

Fedorov, who is also the minister for digital transformation in Ukraine, called on Spotify and Apple music in a tweet yesterday to allow Ukrainian artists to change their album covers “to draw attention to the bloody war in Ukraine”.

He has also asked ICANN to disable country code top-level domains associated with Russia, in an effort to stop the country from using the internet to spread “propaganda and disinformation”.

One ICANN-accredited domain registrar, Namecheap, has already taken steps to end its services for Russian customers, citing the government’s “war crimes”. A spokesperson told The Verge that exceptions will be made for anti-regime media, protestors and Russian expats.

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Apple CEO Tim Cook speaking in June 2018. Image: Stuart Isett/Fortune (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic