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[NEWS] Tech community rallies around Ukraine

Once Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, international bodies and countries, from the EU to the US, imposed a series of financial sanctions on Russia to isolate the country economically. Numerous tech companies followed suit by restricting their services and, in some cases, completely stopping sales.

CNN reports that Apple, Microsoft, and Intel have halted sales of their products in Russia, in a move, according to ZDNet, estimated to end up costing Apple $3 million a day in iPhone sales. Netflix, Airbnb, and IBM have suspended operations entirely, as have PayPalMastercard and Visa. Writing assistant app Grammarly, which was founded in Ukraine, has blocked Russia and Belarus from using the service and has pledged $5 million to organizations and funds supporting the people of Ukraine. 

We’d be remiss not to mention Namecheap, which is no longer selling any products or services to Russian residents. However, exceptions exist for those with anti-regime and protest websites. Read more about the company’s position here.

Meanwhile, some companies have opted to keep services running in Russia, albeit in a limited capacity. Music streaming service Spotify has blocked content from Russia Today and shut down its Russian office but will continue to be operational in the country. A spokesperson told The Verge, “it’s critically important to try to keep our service operational in Russia to allow for the global flow of information.” 

Social media sites, Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit, continue on but are blocking all content from Russian state media, such as Sputnik and Russia Today. Likewise, video streaming service YouTube is blocking Russian media content and, like its parent company Google, has paused online ad sales, according to Reuters. 

BBC reports on the video-sharing service TikTok going a step further than other social media sites by suspending its 36 million Russian users from making content, but they will still be able to view content and use its messaging function. In response to the measures taken by these high-profile social media services, NPR tells us Russia has started restricting and disrupting access to social media across the country.

On the other side of the coin, ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has ruled out kicking certain Russian websites off the Internet. Two Ukrainian officials had petitioned the nonprofit organization, requesting that they revoke “.ru”, “.рф”, and “.su” domains and shut down root servers located in Moscow and St. Petersburg. A spokesperson from ICANN said to Endgadget that taking such an action isn’t technically feasible and is against their ethos, stating, “our mission does not extend to taking punitive actions, issuing sanctions, or restricting access against segments of the Internet — regardless of the provocations.”

In other news

  • Bandcamp joins Epic Games. Last week, Co-founder and CEO of Bandcamp, Ethan Diamond, announced that the music company is joining the video games giant, Epic Games. He said that Bandcamp would “continue operating as a standalone marketplace and music community,” and he reiterates the commitment to artists in music sales. This move was met with skepticism and fears that a company that prizes its independence will not have the same rebellious appeal after the acquisition. But Diamond maintains the move is a chance for expansion with a company that shares its values and vision. 
  • Magpies 1, Wearable Technology 0. Tracking devices have long been used by scientists and biologists studying the behavior of animals. These methods have been used on all creatures from Tasmanian devils to elephant seals, but sometimes they are met with opposition. ABC net reports that Ecologists in Australia recently fitted magpies with single-use tracking devices that could be recharged and the data uploaded at a central feeding station. Unfortunately, their feathered friends had other ideas. Most of the trackers were gone within hours, as the crafty birds developed a technique for unburdening each other of the devices, which they may have thought to be some form of parasite. It just goes to show that, similar to William Wallace, you can hold a magpie back, but you will never take away its freedom. 
  • Molecular cocktails at the flick of a switch. Move over, bartender. According to Engadget, Cana One is the new kitchen appliance that promises to mix a seemingly endless selection of molecular drinks from just one flavorings cartridge. Marketed as a ‘molecular beverage printer,’ Cana One provides mixes of juice, coffee, wine, spirits, and vitamins, customized to your preference of sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. This new-age tool is more efficient in terms of cost, waste, and time, and will make every boss more popular among their staff.    
  • Shiny objects as the next source of espionage. You don’t need to be James Bond to have your conversations followed these days, but you also don’t even need to have a microphone in the room. Now all you need, according to Wired, is a clear view from outside to a shiny or metallic piece of equipment, to which it’s possible to direct an optical sensor that can pick up on vibrations from sounds in the room. Magically, you can listen to those sounds from the source of the optical sensor, so occupants in conversation better hope not too many trade secrets or nuclear codes are given away. 
  • Airbnb becomes a tool for support. In the last decade, we’ve all seen Airbnb rise to become a 100% online company for connecting hosts and guests, similar to how Uber connects taxis and passengers. But amid the current war in Ukraine, the site has become a way for people worldwide to lend their support to the country’s people. NPR reports that 60,000 nights were booked with Ukraine-based Airbnb hosts in two days, to a total of $2 million. This is a way of providing direct financial assistance and solidarity to the people that suddenly found themselves in the middle of an emergency.   
  • Samsung and Nvidia announce cyberattacks. Last week, chip manufacturers Nvidia announced the theft of employee credentials and proprietary information, which was subsequently leaked online. This week Samsung also announced the data breach of internal company data, but the company doesn’t anticipate any significant impact. The Lapsus$ cybercriminal gang claimed to be behind both attacks. 
  • New app brings motion to your old photos. MyHeritage is a website that uses artificial intelligence to add animation to photos to be viewed as videos. This uses an AI program called Deep Nostalgia, which applies realistic human motion. The program can also enhance the photos to reduce blurriness or poor focus. For those with an interest in family history or who want to remember their deceased relatives, seeing ancestors brought to life again will be either heartwarming or a bit creepy.   

Tip of the week

In these uncertain times of both war and cyberwar, we are all potential victims. Just as the uncertainty at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic gave rise to many online scams and phishing attempts, the current conflict is having a similar impact. As tensions escalate on the ground as well as in the digital world, hackers are targeting everyone from corporations to personal users to small businesses.

This means it’s about time to review and improve your security practices. Always be especially wary of any information requests and stay apprised of cybersecurity news. Keep your passwords safe and strong, and your software and operating systems updated. And as you search for world news, or venture into private forum discussions, be sure to evaluate destination links before you click.       

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