Google has told its Russian translators not to use the word "war" when describing the war in Ukraine, and instead to use vague terms including “extraordinary circumstances,” according to The Intercept.
The order was directed at contractors who translate Google products and communications into Russian. It's a clear concession to Russia's recently passed censorship law, which imposes up to 15 years of prison time for anyone who spreads what the Kremlin considers to be false information about the invasion. That law is what prompted TikTok and some news organizations to suspend operations inside Russia.
In a statement to The Intercept, Google spokesperson Alex Krasov said the company is working to ensure "the safety of our local employees."
Google has ample reason to believe its employees really could be targets — they already have been. Last year, according to The Washington Post, Russian agents went to the home of one Google executive in Moscow and threatened her with prison time if Google didn't remove an app linked to opposition leader Alexei Navalny from the Play store. When Google moved the woman to a hotel, where she checked in under a fake name, the same Russian agents reportedly found her there and doubled down on their threats. Shortly after, both Google and Apple removed the app.
Google has since suspended operations of several of its commercial products, including Google ads, inside Russia. But it's continuing to offer information services, including search and YouTube, inside of the country. These products "provide access to global information and perspectives," Google president of Global Affairs Kent Walker wrote in a company blog post.
Digital rights advocates have emphasized the importance of continuing to allow information and communications to flow in and out of Russia, putting pressure on the Biden administration to ensure sanctions don't interfere with the ability of the Russian people to share and get information about the war that hasn't been filtered through the Kremlin. But ultimately, some of that is out of U.S. tech companies' hands. Last week, a Russian court deemed Meta an extremist organization, outlawing both Facebook and Instagram inside the country.