Bulletins

Search engines are fighting Russian misinformation, one link at a time

Google, Bing and DuckDuckGo have put limitations in place, while Brave calls itself "neutral."

DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg at the company's office.
DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg.
Photo: DuckDuckGo

Russia's invasion of Ukraine sent tech companies scrambling. They've suspended sales of products, halted services and pulled workers from the region. And as social platforms like Facebook and YouTube work to stamp out disinformation, search engines are caught walking a similarly fine line between preventing propaganda from spreading and censoring the information they exist to surface.


Search engines and browsers are limiting Russian misinformation websites and state-backed media outlets in search results, as well as restricting advertising. These limitations are aimed at curbing propaganda and conspiracy theories, though some have drawn the ire of free speech absolutists.

One of the first search engines to act was Bing. Parent company Microsoft announced on Feb. 28 that Bing would de-rank Russian state-controlled news sites RT and Sputnik so that the links would only turn up in search when “a user clearly intends to navigate to those pages.” Microsoft also banned the news agencies from placing ads across its ad network.

Brad Smith, president and vice chair of Microsoft, said in a blog post that the company “will make ongoing adjustments to strengthen our detection and disruption mechanisms to avoid the spread of disinformation and promote instead independent and trusted content.”

On March 3, Google paused selling ads in Russia in a ban covering search results and YouTube. The decision followed earlier restrictions in which Google barred certain Russian channels, including RT, from receiving ad revenues on its websites on Feb. 26.

As required by sanctions from the European Union, Google removed RT and Sputnik from its search results in the EU on March 9. Google has not made the same move for the U.S. or other countries. Google said in an email to Protocol that its approach is not to downrank individual sites, pointing to a blog post that said the search engine “fundamentally design our ranking systems to identify information that people are likely to find useful and reliable.”

Privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo on March 10 announced that it would down-rank websites associated with Russian disinformation, including RT and Sputnik. For newsworthy topics, DuckDuckGo will also highlight reputable news coverage and reliable “instant answers” at the top of its search results, the company said in an email to Protocol. The move follows DuckDuckGo halting its partnership with Russian search engine Yandex on March 1.



The company said in a statement to Protocol that “down-ranking is different from censorship,” and it is using disinformation that comes from Russian-controlled websites to signal that the content produced is lower quality, similar to how the search engine would work for “spammy sites.”

“The primary utility of a search engine is to provide access to accurate information,” DuckDuckGo said in a statement to Protocol. “Disinformation sites that deliberately put out false information to intentionally mislead people directly cut against that utility.”

But DuckDuckGo’s users are apparently not happy with the move. An announcement of these changes tweeted by DuckDuckGo founder and CEO Gabriel Weinberg on Wednesday prompted thousands of responses. One user tweeted at him, “This just ruined it for me.” Another responded, “Let US decide what to believe.

Many users responded that they would move to Brave, a self-described privacy-focused search engine and browser. Luke Mulks, vice president of business operations at Brave, tweeted that the service “is more than just a browser,” promoting its search engine as “neutral” and “private.” The company launched its browser in June 2021.

“User-first means getting out of your way,” Mulks tweeted. Brave did not respond to a request for comment from Protocol.

Latest Bulletins

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine is suing Mark Zuckerberg, alleging the Meta CEO was responsible for decisions that opened the door for the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Keep Reading Show less

The U.K.'s Information Commissioner’s Office, the country's privacy watchdog, has ordered facial recognition company Clearview AI to delete all data belonging to the country's residents.

Keep Reading Show less

Meta will finally give researchers access to targeting data for political ads — information that academics have been clamoring for and using legally risky workarounds to collect on their own for years.

Keep Reading Show less

Coinbase just celebrated its 10th birthday. And the crypto powerhouse marked the milestone on a defiant note, with a snarky TV ad clapping back at crypto bashers.

Keep Reading Show less

Google is allowing some Android apps to use their own payment systems after getting into battles with both Match Group and Epic Games' Bandcamp, but the move might be temporary. The company is facing legal action for requiring apps in the Google Play Store to use its billing, and the interim solution Google came up with is to let those apps use their own payments — with a catch.

Keep Reading Show less

Larry Ellison was among the participants on a call in November 2020, during which top Trump allies discussed ways to contest the election results, according to The Washington Post. It's unclear what role Ellison played on the call, but The Post found evidence of Ellison's apparent involvement in court records and confirmed with one of the call's other participants.

Keep Reading Show less

Microsoft Bing has exported Chinese censorship abroad, according to a new report by The University of Toronto's Citizen Lab.

Bing searches for national figures, leaders within the Chinese Communist Party, dissidents and topics that Beijing considers politically sensitive did not appear in auto-suggest in North America, according to the report. Among the search terms that didn't generate autocomplete suggestions were searches for President Xi Jinping, the late human rights activist Liu Xiaobo and searches related to the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Keep Reading Show less

Google had its "best year yet" for hiring Black and Latinx employees in the U.S. as well as women globally, according to its 2022 Diversity Annual Report. The hiring rate increased for Black, Latinx, Native American and female employees, although these identities are still very underrepresented compared to white and male employees.

Keep Reading Show less

Tech companies are figuring out how to handle the upcoming historic Supreme Court decision that could overturn abortion rights. In the case of Meta, that includes telling employees to not talk about it at work. Meta VP of HR Janelle Gale told workers during an all-hands on Thursday not to talk about abortion on Workplace, the company's internal messaging platform.

Keep Reading Show less

As many tech companies face a slump and crypto looks set for a deep freeze, Coinbase is facing reality and hitting the brakes on spending. The company is halting some business projects, freezing hiring for two weeks and cutting its spending on Amazon Web Services, the Information reported Thursday.

Keep Reading Show less

AWS reached a private settlement with a female employee who accused now-former executive Joshua Burgin of discrimination and harrasement, Protocol has learned.

Keep Reading Show less

The Federal Trade Commission on Thursday unanimously reminded providers of education technology to follow federal limits on the collection and use of kids' data in an attempt to ensure that common practices in the data economy don't become the norm in schools.

Keep Reading Show less

The apocalypse is coming, at least according to one of the world's biggest startup accelerators.

Y Combinator sent an email to portfolio founders this week, obtained by TechCrunch, advising the startups to "plan for the worst" as the market turbulence has prompted many companies to initiate layoffs, cost-cutting measures and hiring slowdowns.

Keep Reading Show less

Apple just hit an important milestone in developing its mixed-reality headset as rivals like Meta are making strides in developing similar devices. Executives showed off an AR/VR device to Apple's board last week, according to Bloomberg, a sign that the product is really happening and it's inching closer to a public launch.

Keep Reading Show less

The SEC is pushing back on Ripple’s bid for access to emails and other documents that the crypto giant believes could bolster its case against the regulator.

The SEC, which sued Ripple in 2020 for failing to register $1.4 billion worth of XRP as securities, has refused to release emails related to a 2018 speech by former director William Hinman in which he argued the ether cryptocurrency was not a security. The speech sparked a rally in ether’s price and was interpreted as an endorsement of the industry’s view that cryptocurrencies are not securities.

Keep Reading Show less

Tesla’s autopilot system is being investigated by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration following a fatal crash in California that killed three passengers this month. It is the 35th accident the agency has investigated since 2016 related to Tesla's Autopilot feature, according to Reuters. Those accidents have resulted in a total of 14 deaths.

Keep Reading Show less

Google has reportedly pulled out of Russia, and many employees there have moved to Dubai.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that most of Google’s Russia-based employees had chosen to leave the country, and that the company will soon have no workforce presence in Russia amid the country’s ongoing war in Ukraine.

Keep Reading Show less

Add lawmakers to the growing list of people, companies and trade groups that are ticked off about the Commerce Department’s solar probe.

This week, a collection of 85 House Democrats wrote to the White House saying that they're concerned “about the devastating economic and environmental impacts” of the probe, which began in April and has already had already stunted the clean energy transition in the U.S. While the probe has not resulted in any changes to the U.S. tariff structure so far, the chance that it could has the industry upset. Lawmakers have heard those concerns, and they're turning up the pressure on the Biden administration to wrap the probe up as quickly as possible.

Keep Reading Show less

A major reversal by the U.S. Department of Justice on how it views good-faith security research is expected to be warmly welcomed by the cybersecurity community.

Keep Reading Show less

TikTok is getting much more serious about gaming, according to a new report from Reuters. The social video platform is already testing mobile games with users in Vietnam, due to the country's high concentration of younger smartphone owners. Eventually, TikTok plans to roll out games more broadly in Asia and possibly other markets as well.

Keep Reading Show less

A bipartisan group of senators wants to force Google to spin off huge chunks of the online ads business at the heart of its profits.

A bill introduced Thursday, led by Republican Sen. Mike Lee, would ban major digital exchanges that match buyers and sellers of online ad space from also operating technology that allows publishers to manage their part of the sales and advertisers to control their purchases. Google is the biggest player in all three areas.

Keep Reading Show less

Twitter will begin taking action against misinformation in crisis situations, the company said Thursday. The new policy will be immediately applied to misinformation surrounding the war in Ukraine.

Keep Reading Show less

Cisco blamed COVID-19 lockdowns in China and the war in Ukraine for its flat revenue growth during the fiscal third quarter, and forecast for a declining current quarter when it reported earnings late Wednesday.

Supply shortages appear to be the largest culprit, and CEO Chuck Robbins said during a conference call Wednesday that the company’s disappointing revenue was the result of its inability to secure adequate components to sell its various products. The lockdowns in China were especially damaging, Robbins said.

Keep Reading Show less

Block just detailed plans for its self-custody bitcoin hardware wallet, aiming to bring together the often contradictory goals of convenience and crypto security. Block's goal is to monetize the wallet through a subscription service.

Keep Reading Show less

Apple's loss is Google's gain: Ian Goodfellow, who was a director in Apple's machine learning division, left the company recently, citing the company's return-to-office policy as the reason for his departure. Goodfellow is reportedly joining Google's DeepMind AI group.

Keep Reading Show less
Bulletins