Google has been very swift to react to events in Ukraine in an effort to save as many lives as possible. As Google Maps traffic soared in Ukraine with citizens driving (and even walking) their way across the border to Poland, Google decided to disable some of its features to prevent Maps from being used to track the movements of people inside Ukraine.
Android users in Ukraine receive Air Raid Alerts on their phones
Google rightly believes that crowdsourced data and traffic information could be used by the Russians as intelligence. While disabling those features on Google Maps was the right thing to do, Google has added an important feature for Android users in the war-ravaged country. The company recently updated a blog it published early this month that revealed the steps it was taking to help Ukraine and mentioned that it started pushing out a rapid Air Raid Alerts system for Android.
Besides adding native Air Raid Alerts to Android in Ukraine, Google has promoted the use of third party Air Raid Alert apps in the Play Store
Google was asked to develop this feature by the government of Ukraine to supplement the country’s own system. The data that is used by Google to warn Ukrainians that they need to quickly find a safe spot comes from the alerts that Ukraine delivers itself.
Google also announced earlier this past week that it has stopped “the vast majority of our commercial activities in Russia – including ads on our properties and networks globally for all Russian-based advertisers, new Cloud sign ups, the payments functionality for most of our services, and monetization features for YouTube viewers in Russia.” Yet, the company acknowledges that its free services including Search, Gmail, and YouTube are still up and running in Russia. Google states that it will continue to keep a close watch on developments.
We would imagine that Google sees the Russian people as victims as well (although obviously not to the same extreme as Ukrainians), and as long as it is not accepting payments for Search, Gmail, and YouTube, it feels that it should not deprive the Russian people of using these apps.
Google is also giving companies in countries bordering Ukraine the opportunity to include on their Business Profile in Google Maps and Search information about whether they offer services to Ukrainian refugees. Hotel firms are posting on their Business Profiles whether they are giving Ukrainian refugees free or discounted accommodations.
Other tech firms are helping out with some major U.S. carriers offering free calls and texts to and from Ukraine. Some of these offers have recently expired, but Verizon has announced that it will continue to waive charges through March 17th for international calls, texts, and in-country data charges for consumers and enterprise customers to and from Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine.
UScellular is allowing its subscribers to make free calls to and from Ukraine through March 31st.
Apple announced early in March that it was halting sales of its popular products in Russia including the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, although that might have had more to do with the rapidly depreciating Ruble and the sanctions placed on the Russian financial system. It also left the App Store open, but that might be for the same reasons Google hasn’t disabled YouTube, Search, and Gmail in Russia.
Apple also followed Google by shutting down some features of Apple Maps in Ukraine including Live Traffic. This prevents Ukrainian citizens from being tracked by Russian forces.