Google donating $15 million to Ukraine relief efforts, blocking RT YouTube channels in Europe

Google said it will also temporarily disable some live Google Maps features in Ukraine.
Written by Jonathan Greig, Contributor

Google's president of global affairs Kent Walker said that the company is taking a variety of actions to help those fleeing the conflict in Ukraine. 

The tech giant said Google.org and Google employees are contributing $15 million in donations to aid relief efforts in Ukraine, with $5 million coming from the company's employee matching campaign and another $5 million coming from grants. The company is also offering advertising credits for humanitarian and intergovernmental organizations working on aid and resettlement efforts. 

"We've launched an SOS alert on Search across Ukraine. When people search for refugee and evacuation information, they will see an alert pointing them to United Nations resources for refugees and asylum seekers. We're working with expert organizations to source helpful humanitarian information as the situation unfolds," Walker said. 

"And after consulting with multiple sources on the ground, including local authorities, we've temporarily disabled some live Google Maps features in Ukraine, including the traffic layer and information about how busy places are, to help protect the safety of local communities and their citizens. We've also added information on refugee and migrant centers in neighboring countries."

Walker also noted that Google's security teams are working around the clock, tracking Russia-backed hacking and influence operations. 

He said they have issued hundreds of warnings to people in Ukraine using products like Gmail about security issues over the last year. 

Google's Threat Analysis Group (TAG) has also seen threat actors "refocus" their efforts on people and organizations in Ukraine. Walker said they have seen the actors behind the GhostWriter threat group going after the Ukrainian government and military officials.

"We blocked these attempts and have not seen any compromise of Google accounts as a result of this campaign. We also automatically increased Google account security protections (including more frequent authentication challenges) for people in the region and will continue to do so as cyber threats evolve," Walker said. 

"Our Advanced Protection Program — which delivers Google's highest level of security — is currently protecting the accounts of hundreds of high-risk users in Ukraine. And 'Project Shield,' a service providing free unlimited protection against Distributed Denial of Service attacks, is already protecting over 100 Ukrainian websites, including local news services." 

Google is also joining Meta and Apple in addressing issues surrounding Russian state-backed news outlets like Russia Today and Sputnik.

Walker said that YouTube channels connected to Russia Today and Sputnik were blocked across Europe starting on Tuesday. He noted that the company had already paused the monetization of Russian state-funded media across their platforms. 

Google is also limiting recommendations globally for Russian state-funded media outlets and removed "hundreds of channels and thousands of videos for violating its Community Guidelines."

Walker added that the company is still concerned about the safety of its Ukrainian team and their families. He said Google has worked since January to "provide help, including physical security support, paid leave, assistance options and reimbursement for housing, travel and food for anyone forced to leave their homes."

Google will also comply with any sanction requirements, according to Walker, who noted that tools like Google Pay may become unavailable in certain countries as more individuals, regions and institutions like banks are sanctioned. 

Most Google products will remain available in Russia, Walker said, including Search, Maps and YouTube. 

The actions came the same day that Meta and Apple announced similar actions in relation to their business in Russia. Meta announced that it plans to demote content from Russian state-backed media outlets on Facebook and Instagram as part of a wide range of efforts taken. 

Apple is pausing all product sales in Russia, stopped all exports to the country and limited Apple Pay there as well. Russia Today and Sputnik News are no longer available for download from the App Store outside Russia and Apple disabled both traffic and live incidents in Apple Maps in Ukraine. 

Twitter is instituting similar measures, including pausing advertisements in Ukraine and Russia "to ensure critical public safety information is elevated and ads don't detract from it."

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