US internet giants tighten the screw on Russia

Russia and Ukraine war, conflict, confrontation. Fighting between Russia and Ukraine, symbolized by national flags stained in blood, 3d illustration

As the scramble to be seen to be doing the right thing over the Ukraine conflict continues, Amazon and Google have made significant announcements.

‘We’ve suspended shipment of retail products to customers based in Russia and Belarus, and we will no longer be accepting new Russia and Belarus-based AWS customers and Amazon third-party sellers,” said Amazon in a published update. “We are also suspending access to Prime Video for customers based in Russia, and we will no longer be taking orders for New World, which is the only video game we sell directly in Russia.”

That’s a fairly sweeping set of measures. The devil is in the detail, of course, and presumably some degree of contract law is still in play, hence the ‘new customers’ nuance. Having said that, will Russian Prime subscribers be compensated for the denial of a major component of that service?

“As a reminder, unlike some other U.S. technology providers, Amazon and AWS have no data centers, infrastructure, or offices in Russia, and we have a long-standing policy of not doing business with the Russian government,” continued the update. Whoever signed off on the ‘unlike some other U.S. technology providers’ clause made a mistake, in our opinion, as it exposes a willingness to indulge in petty point-scoring even during this fraught time.

Of course, we can’t know which other US tech companies Amazon had in mind but maybe one of them was Google. We’re not aware of any significant announcements from Google Cloud over the Ukraine situation, but the Android side of things has made a recent small announcement.

“Due to payment system disruption, we will be pausing Google Play’s billing system for users in Russia in the coming days,” it said. “This means users will not be able to purchase apps and games, make subscription payments or conduct any in-app purchases of digital goods using Google Play in Russia. Free apps will remain available on the Play Store.”

To what extent this move was forced upon Google by the decision of dominant payment processors Visa and Mastercard to cut off Russia is unclear but it must surely have been a factor. All companies based in the US and its allied countries seems to be coming under intense pressure to completely isolate Russia, so this may well not be the last we hear from Google and other internet giants on the matter. Again, they presumably have legal, contractual commitments in the country, but these are exceptional times in which the rule book is being re-written on a daily basis.

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