SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Google said on Wednesday it is reviewing recent advertisements run by a Myanmar military-backed telecommunications firm and has disabled some army-linked accounts on its services in the wake of the country’s coup.
The move comes as activists called on the US technology giant to restrict access to its services after dozens of deaths following weeks of protests against the Feb. 1 seizure of power.
“We have taken action against accounts on our platforms… including disabling accounts on Google services and taking down a number of YouTube channels and videos related to the Myanmar military,” a Google spokeswoman said in a response to a Reuters question.
“Our priority is to help people in Myanmar access information and communicate safely.”
The disabled accounts connected to the military included those on Gmail, the publishing platform Blogger and the Google Play store, according to Google.
A spokesman for the army did not respond to a request for comment.
More than 60 protesters have been killed and 1,900 people have been arrested since the coup, an advocacy group said.
YouTube said last week it had taken down five channels run by the state network MRTV as well as the military-owned Myawaddy Media. YouTube is owned by Alphabet Inc, the parent company of Google.
Justice for Myanmar, an advocacy group looking at the army’s business interests, said on Wednesday it had found that Google and Rakuten-owned messaging app Viber were running new advertisements for Mytel, a Myanmar telecoms partially owned by the army, following a ban by Facebook.
Mytel, Viber and Rakuten did not respond to requests for comment.
Justice for Myanmar representative Yadanar Maung said while the group welcomed Google’s recent steps to disable some military-linked accounts on its platforms, it was “appalled” if Google and Viber profited by selling advertisements for “the Myanmar military business” Mytel.
Reuters reviewed three Mytel advertisements published on Google and Viber over the last week, soon after Facebook announced it would block the Myanmar army from access to its platforms as well as advertising by all army-linked military entities.
Vietnamese operator Viettel, which is partly owned by Vietnam’s ministry of defence, is also a backer of Mytel.
Viettel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Facebook in 2020 removed more than a dozen user accounts and pages for “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”, which it said were being used to covertly promote Mytel and disparage rivals.
Documents published by Justice for Myanmar, whose website has been blocked by authorities in Myanmar, found that Mytel is under large control of the Myanmar military, for which it provides a significant source of income.
“The military’s business interests help finance the brutal atrocities they are committing against the people of Myanmar,” said Maung, who called on technology firms to ban all military businesses from its platforms.
(Reporting by Fanny Potkin; Editing by Ed Davies)