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AI startup tracks companies breaking off ties with Russia


It has become hard to keep track of every foreign business leaving Russia, but a young company from Stanford has come up with a solution.

Hundreds of firms declared sanctions after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Others, such as Meta, were blocked by the Kremlin for their allegedly extremist role in the conflict. But only the biggest and symbolic brands, such as Instagram or McDonald’s, make headlines.

The founders of Diffbot, a machine-learning startup from Stanford, developed a system for tracking the constantly evolving network of companies implementing sanctions, so that individuals and businesses could stay on top of the affected companies.

“Using natural language processing, Diffbot crawls the public web and structures it into a publically accessible Knowledge Graph that is continuously maintained by the AI system,” Diffbot CEO Mike Tung told Cybernews.

He noted that there had been numerous attempts to build such lists. However, summaries made by media outlets did not age well. Similarly, community projects like opensanctions.org, historically focused on aggregating official government lists, struggled to keep up with the torrent of announcements.

The Diffbot Knowledge Graph trawls through the entire public web, including Russian-language pages, using natural language processing (NLP) to read them in their native tongue. To verify whether a source is trustworthy or not, Diffbot assigns a score to each domain and fuses information together from a range of sources.

“Algorithms assign a knowledge-based trust score for each source, as well as a probability score for each fact that is produced by this process. When customers search the Knowledge Graph, they are searching across a set of facts that are scored above a default probability,” Tung said.

Algorithms consider whether a particular fact appears across multiple diverse sources, the historical track record of facts produced by that source over time, the organization that runs that site, and whether the fact is consistent with those on other sources.

“For the real-time sanctions tracker, we are only outputting sanctions that appear on at least three independent, trustworthy sources,” said Tung.

At the time of writing, there are just under 600 brands listed on the Diffbot sanctions tracker.

Russian invasion

On the night of February 24, Russian forces invaded Ukraine. The Kremlin dubbed the aggression a 'special operation,' and calling the attack a 'war' can lead to a 15-year sentence.

In light of the attack, the hacker community started rallying to help Ukrainians. With Anonymous being the most prominent one, numerous hacker groups and researchers partake in various campaigns to help Ukraine.

Cyber activists targeted Russian state-controlled media outlets TASS, Kommersant, Izvestia, Fontanka, and RBC, pushing them offline.

Russian nuclear agency Rosatom and the country's space agency Roscosmos were allegedly breached by hacktivists protesting the war in Ukraine.

The German branch of the Anonymous collective also claims to have stolen 20 terabytes of data from the German arm of Rosneft, Russia's state energy company.

The Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine prompted Western governments to sanction Russia. As a result, numerous IT-related services got blocked or left the Russian market after the invasion began.

According to the United Nations, almost 3 million people have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries. Thousands of Ukrainian civilians have perished due to Russia's artillery attacks of urban territories.


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