Facebook, Apple and Other Tech Giants Face Rising Pressure Over Ukraine

1st March, 2022.      //   Technology  // 

images (6)Conflict could accelerate the fracturing of the internet into the ‘splinternet,’ analysts say.

U.S. tech giants are under pressure from both Russia and the West to respond to the conflict in Ukraine, highlighting their power over global discourse but also escalating a recent trend in which their businesses are squeezed by geopolitical events.

Analysts say the conflict could accelerate the fracturing of the internet, which not so long ago was largely split between China and the rest of the world. Increasingly, big tech companies are beholden to a patchwork of local rules, leading some to believe the “splinternet” is coming closer to reality.

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian officials restricted access to Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook products, alleging it blocked access to Russian media outlets. Facebook said it had been fact-checking and labeling news from state-owned media outlets and later said that it would prohibit Russian state media from running ads on its platform. Twitter Inc. also said access to its site had been limited.

YouTube said it would pause the ability of several Russian channels to monetize and would limit recommendations to them, after U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.) wrote to the Alphabet Inc. unit, as well as to other major tech companies, urging them to do more to combat Russian influence operations. Alphabet’s Google took similar measures to block monetization on its platforms by Russian state-funded media.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials called on Apple Inc. to prohibit Russian access to its App Store.

“We need your support—in 2022, modern technology is perhaps the best answer to the tanks, multiple rocket launchers…and missiles,” Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukrainian deputy prime minister, wrote in a letter to Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook.

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

Facebook, YouTube and Twitter representatives said they continue to monitor developments and could take further action. Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, captured the balancing act platforms face, saying that the company wants Facebook’s apps to continue to offer a place where people can “make their voices heard, share what’s happening and organize.”

The Russian Embassy in Washington didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

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

The pressure goes beyond social-media platforms. Last year, Russia classified Netflix Inc. as an audiovisual provider, a change that could force it to begin offering state television channels to its estimated 1 million subscribers in the country, according to Moscow Times. It was an outgrowth of an Internet sovereignty law passed in 2019 that gave the government more control over content for Russian users.

The changing landscape has pinched sales and cut into profits by forcing companies to increase spending on compliance with local laws, according to analysts, former executives and legal scholars. They said the phenomenon has curtailed some internet users’ access to services and information, and forced companies to assess whether they should subscribe to largely U.S. values about freedom of information or adhere to local laws that are often in conflict with those principles.

“This was decades in the making and it is getting worse because countries are adopting more and more serious rules around content,” said

The most significant European war in 80 years has now revived a decades-old term about the rise of digital nationalism—“the splinternet,” in which local laws and policies have created a series of national internets.

 

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