Russia vs Ukraine: How the tech industry is responding

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Since time immemorial, war has been a common outcome of a conflict between countries. The most recent global war was Word War II which left around 85 million people dead. After such a catastrophic war, it is the hope of every person that it never happens again. That seems hopeless as the world seems to never run out of wars. As Georg Hegel said, “the only thing that we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.”

In 1945, the year when World War II ended, we didn’t have advanced technologies as we do today. As technology advances, it triggers the advancement of weapon systems. Ergo, a world war in the modern world will be far more catastrophic than all preceding world wars combined. 

Russia attacks Ukraine

On 24th February, Russia launched an attack on Ukraine after months of tensions between the two European nations. Russia began the invasion by launching coordinated cyberattacks on Ukrainian government departments. The cyberattacks involved flooding government networks with loads of internet traffic and data-wiping malware. Russia then proceeded to launch ground, sea, and air incursions.

Media houses reported outages caused by cyberattacks. In the past, Russia has been accused of using Ukraine as its “testing ground” for cyberwar tools – this time it is not a test.

Russia received sharp rebuke and criticism from the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom followed by harsh financial and diplomatic sanctions that will impact business trade and finance in Russia and its business partners. 

Tech industry

Major tech brands with offices in Ukraine have been working on evacuating their employees. Notwithstanding, the evacuation efforts are facing major pitfalls as the airspace is currently out of bounds and a large portion of public transportation has been derailed. They have been forced to work out a plan to move staff across the border to Hungary or Poland.

Tech companies in Ukraine experiencing impacts of Russia’s Red Army invasion include Grammarly, the artificial intelligence-based grammar and writing service; Reface, the face-swapping app; Petcube, camera technology for pets; People AI, the sales and marketing intelligence startup; and language tutor marketplace Preply. All these firms were funded by some of the world’s biggest VCs. Will the invasion affect those relationships? Time will tell.

MacPaw, the software maker who develops Mac OS and utilities said its infrastructure is housed by Amazon Web Services and physically located outside of Ukraine even though it is headquartered in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. Its payment system, Paddle, is hosted in the UK. The company hopes its users won’t be affected.

Apart from tech startups, there are other big tech firms that run research and development operations in Ukraine and provide localized services such as content sales and advertising services.

In times of crisis, platforms with user-generated content tend to experience misinformation. The consumers for companies like Google, YouTube, TikTok, Facebook, and Twitter are how they are being used or misused.

While it is the responsibility of these tech companies to protect users from disinformation, it has never been simple. Most of these platforms use an AI-based algorithm that detects content propagating disinformation. These algorithms are somewhat effective as they can scan through thousands of posts in a second.

The main challenge is that such systems are not 100 percent effective. With new content being posted every minute these algorithms may fail to detect certain forms of disinformation. After all, the software relies on machine learning technologies and must learn from existing data to deduce patterns.

Google has around 200 employees in Ukraine who carry out both research and development and local operations. Even though the tech giant has had censorship issues in Russia, it has not experienced such challenges in Ukraine.

Uber entered Ukraine in 2016 and it has halted operations in the nine cities where it operates. The firm temporarily relocated its Kyiv-based employees to other parts of the country and its close neighbors and advised its gig-working drivers and riders to stay home.

In a tweet, Facebook head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher highlighted the steps that the social media platform is taking to respond to the invasion. Gleicher stated that Facebook has formed a Special Operations Center with native speakers to “closely monitor the situation and act as fast as possible.” The firm launched a special feature to allow Ukrainian users to lock their accounts. The feature prevents anyone who is not your friend from downloading your profile picture or viewing your posts. Facebook also rolled out alerts with instructions to users about securing their accounts. Ukrainians are yet to adopt these measures.

Twitter has been steadfast in warning its users in Ukraine to secure their accounts with measures like using two-factor authentication (2FA) and disabling location in tweets. 24 hours before the attack, Twitter said it mistakenly suspended accounts that were sharing information about Russia’s plans to attack Ukraine.

The internet leader Cloudflare CEO Mathew Prince confirmed the firm had removed customer cryptographic material from servers in Ukraine after the invasion started to protect customer data in case the data center is infiltrated. The internet giant opened the Kyiv data center in 2016.

As a call for help, Ukraine has pleaded with the underground community of hackers to help them by launching cyberattacks against Russia –  Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures. Ukraine is committed to protecting its sovereignty with whatever means necessary.

As you use various social media platforms, I urge you to avoid misinformation as it may cause more chaos in these desperate times. Spread love instead.

What do you think the tech industry can do to help Ukraine? Leave a comment below

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