A group of Google employees are yet again speaking out against Google’s defense contracts, this time asking the company to shelve its $1.2 billion Project Nimbus contract for the Israeli government and military. Google partnered with Amazon to bid for the project.
Under employee pressure, Google has previously dropped one US government defence contract (Project Maven), and shied away from another (JEDI).
In a video posted on Youtube, a group of Google employees including Palestinian, Jewish, Muslim, and Arab staff expressed their concerns over Project Nimbus, which they claim will provide surveillance and other forms of powerful AI technology to the Israeli government and military. They are also speaking out against “the anti-Palestinian bias” they have witnessed within the company.
“By doing business with Israeli apartheid, Amazon and Google will make it easier for the Israeli government to surveil Palestinians and force them off their land,” said the group that calls itself Jewish Diaspora in tech.
While Google said Project Nimbus is a mere cloud computing contract for Israeli government, a report from The Intercept pointed towards training documents and videos that showed Google is providing the Israeli government with a full suite of machine-learning and AI tools that would give Israel capability to surveil people and process vast stores of data on the Palestinian population.
Google employees’ protest against Project Nimbus has been led by a Jewish employee, Ariel Koren, who resigned from the company this week after protesting for over a year against the project and what she terms Google’s attempts to silence her.
“Instead of listening to employees who want Google to live up to its ethical principles, Google is aggressively pursuing military contracts and stripping away the voices of its employees through a pattern of silencing and retaliation towards me and many others,” Koren wrote in a letter to colleagues explaining her decision to resign.
Koren, who worked in Google’s marketing division, first spoke about the issue in an internal group for the Jewish Google employees, but said she was “put on moderation” by some group members, banning her from posting anything in the group.
She and other employees subsequently started the Jewish Diaspora in Tech group to continue their protest against the company.
As Koren resigned from Google, at least 15 other employees published audio testimonies against the company’s “anti-Palestinian” bias. Many among the activists are also holding press conferences in a multi-city protest across the US.
Tech giants face heat over political disagreements
Political disagreements among employees have been clashing with technology development and making talent shortages an even bigger issue among technology giants who are constantly trying to upend competition with new advancements in AI and other areas.
Four years ago, Google was forced to end its participation in a large US Department of Defense contract, Project Maven, which was supposed to use AI to interpret video information to target drone strikes. Four thousand Google employees signed a petition demanding the company and its contractors stay away from ever building warfare technology.
Seeing those protests, when it came to bidding for another DoD project called JEDI (Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure), Google decided to stand down.
Similar calls have been made by employees of Microsoft and Amazon against projects that have political leanings or implications on wars. Technology workers across the industry have been participating in several protests as they stand up and speak out against injustice.
While Google has been on the back foot in earlier protests, this time Google doesn’t seem to be backing off as it slowed hiring and pushed employees to work harder.
In a clear sign that dissent would no longer be tolerated at the firm, Google spokeswoman Shannon Newberry spoke to The New York Times about Koren’s allegations, saying, “We prohibit retaliation in the workplace and publicly share our very clear policy. We thoroughly investigated this employee’s claim, as we do when any concerns are raised.”