Google pauses its ad sales in Russia, Microsoft pauses sales

In further responses from the tech industry to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week and the country’s continued aggression against its neighbor, Google and Microsoft have both now said they’re pausing sales in Russia.

We understand that Google’s pause — which is focused on its own ad sales — began last night and has been rolling out over subsequent hours. The news was reported earlier by Reuters.

It’s not the first to do this. Snap and Twitter previously announced ad sales suspensions in Russia. But Google’s ad business is of course considerably larger.

Google’s action boils down to a pause on all ads in Russia, including Search, YouTube and Display ads, effective immediately — meaning people in Russia won’t see ads from Google.

But we also understand that it does not prevent Russian advertisers from using Google’s ads services to serve ads outside Russia if they wish.

This suggests Russian publications could still seek to monetize content by serving ads to people outside the country via Google’s ad network — at a time when independent journalists in the country are facing an unprecedented crackdown. (Earlier today the Russian parliament passed a law that could land reporters in jail for up to 15 years for spreading “false” information about the military.)

Microsoft, meanwhile, has also announced its own sales suspension in Russia — writing in a blog post today that it will “suspend all new sales of Microsoft products and services in Russia”.

This presumably covers Bing ads, as well as other Microsoft services. (We’ve asked for confirmation.)

“In addition, we are coordinating closely and working in lockstep with the governments of the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom, and we are stopping many aspects of our business in Russia in compliance with governmental sanctions decisions,” Microsoft’s president and VP Brad Smith also writes in the blog post.

Google’s more limited move restricting ad sales is an expansion of measures it announced Tuesday — “promoting information quality”, as it put it then — several days after Russia’s invasion began in the early hours of February 24; and after European leaders had spent a day piling pressure on tech platforms to act decisively against Russian disinformation.

Initially, Google said it would geoblock the YouTube channels of the Kremlin-linked media outlets Russia Today and Sputnik in Europe. It soon followed by geoblocking the pair’s apps from its Play Store — also only in Europe, and ahead of a pan-EU sanction on the channels coming into legal force on Wednesday.

Prior to that Google had announced an “indefinite pause of monetization of Russian state-funded media across our platforms” — meaning media outlets such as RT are unable to generate ad revenue or buy advertising via its platforms.

But the tech giant confirmed today it’s taken things further by freezing its ad sales in Russia.

In a statement on the ad sales suspension, a Google spokesperson told us: 

In light of the extraordinary circumstances, we’re pausing Google ads in Russia. The situation is evolving quickly, and we will continue to share updates when appropriate.

Google is not suspending sales of other types of services (e.g. paid consumer services, Google Pay, sales of apps, etc.) at this time. It is also continuing to provide Russians with access to information services (e.g. Google Search, Maps, YouTube, etc.).

The piecemeal nature of the tech giant’s announcements since Russia invaded Ukraine suggests Google has been scrambling to come up with a coherent response to an unfolding crisis.

Microsoft has looked more decisive — announcing a more rounded package of measures targeted at Russia’s “state-sponsored disinformation” at the start of this week; and further extending that today with a blanket sales ban.

Earlier this week Apple also said it was halting product sales in Russia and restricting some of its services (such as Apple Pay). Plus it pulled RT and Sputnik from the App Store globally this week (with the exception of the Russia market itself).

The picture from Facebook’s parent Meta is fuzzier. Since the invasion began the social media giant has been announcing a series of restrictions (such as demoting RT and Sputnik content) — but at the time of writing, the adtech giant does not appear to have suspended ad sales in Russia itself. (Again, we’ve reached out with questions.)

Update: A Meta spokesperson sent this statement after it confirmed Russia is blocking its service:

“Despite the Russian government’s announcement that they will be blocking Facebook, we are working to keep our services available to the greatest extent possible. However, due to the difficulties of operating in Russia at this time, ads targeting people in Russia will be paused, and advertisers within Russia will no longer be able to create or run ads anywhere in the world, including within Russia.”

Bans by private companies are not the only disruption Russians are facing to accessing digital services, of course: Wider sanctions on Russian banks also appear to have been hitting locals’ access to some tech services.