Google Maps has temporarily disabled key features in Ukraine
Google and many other big tech companies are taking added measures to bolster user safety in the region both online and offline.
Google Maps temporarily disabled tools that provide live traffic data and an overview of how busy a local destination is in Ukraine, Reuters reported on Sunday. Google told the outlet that it took these actions to preserve the safety of the local communities in the country “after consulting with sources including regional authorities.” However, the company says that live traffic information will be available to drivers in the area through Google Maps’ turn-by-turn navigation features.
Google Maps’ current traffic and busyness features work by tapping into users around the world who are connected to their devices, usually a smartphone with location sharing on. The company then compares these real-time conditions to historical traffic patterns. Google also uses location data to power a range of emergency warning alerts, like those for incoming natural disasters.
That’s not the only connection there has been between Google Maps and the unprovoked invasion in Ukraine. Last week, The Washington Post reported that researchers have been using Google Maps as an instrument to track the movement of troops and civilians to visualize the Russian invasion. According to The Post, Jeffrey Lewis, a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, saw Russian army forces moving towards the border with Ukraine through Google Maps traffic before Russia formally announced its assault on Ukraine.
“To clear up a misconception: The traffic data is most likely NOT from soldiers carrying smartphones,” Lewis wrote on Twitter, referring to an unusual jam at the border. “Instead, civilians are probably getting stuck at roadblocks and @googlemaps is recording that.”
[Related: A comprehensive guide to using social media when your safety’s at risk]
Google is one of several big tech companies to announce new measures to protect the online and offline security of users in the region since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. Additionally, Google said on Twitter that it has increased account protections for people in the region and is blocking ads that seek to take advantage of the crisis.
In a similar vein, Meta said that it banned ads and demonetized accounts of Russian state media channels. Last week, it removed disinformation campaigns and fake accounts from Russian state actors targeting Ukraine and announced the rollout of account privacy and security protections for its users in the area.
Twitter said that it was temporarily pausing recommendations and ads in Russia and Ukraine. It will add labels as well to state-owned media links posted on its site. Twitter Safety also issued a thread in both English and Russian last week that walked individual users through steps they can take to add more safeguards to their accounts.