Google and Amazon workers protest tech giants’ contract with Israel as worker activism escalates

Hundreds of Google and Amazon employees demonstrated Thursday outside the company’s offices in San Francisco, New York, Seattle and Durham, North Carolina, demanding that the tech giants end their contract $1.2 billion with Project Nimbus to provide Israel and its military with artificial intelligence and cloud computing technologies. .

Some Google and Amazon employees believe the contract will help Israel’s surveillance efforts on Palestinians, Sunnyvale-based Google Cloud engineer Josh Marxen told The Chronicle ahead of the protest.

About 1,100 Google employees have signed a petition calling on the company to drop the Nimbus contract, Marxen said. There is “no way to participate without giving data to the Israeli government which oppresses the Palestinians”, he said. “It is worrying.

Google denied the contract would help intelligence services or bolster the military, saying protesters were misrepresenting Project Nimbus.

“This protest group may have their own views on Israel, but that doesn’t affect our work on this contract,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “As we have repeatedly stated, the contract is for workloads performed on our business platform by Israeli government ministries such as finance, health, transportation and education. The protest group today distorts the contract – our work is not directed to highly sensitive or classified military workloads regarding weapons or intelligence.

About 200 workers gathered outside Google’s One Market Plaza office near San Francisco’s Embarcadero, waving signs reading ‘no tech for Israeli apartheid’, the latest example of the growing activism of workers in the technology.

There are also allegations that Google retaliated against workers for speaking out.

Ariel Koren, a Google marketing manager who had worked for the company for seven years, was a leading critic of Project Nimbus and quit last week. Koren, a San Francisco resident, said the company gave her an ultimatum: move to São Paulo, Brazil, within 17 working days or get fired, after criticizing the Nimbus project.

The New York Times reported that Google and the National Labor Relations Board investigated his complaint and found no wrongdoing on Google’s part.

The Project Nimbus backlash follows an uproar in 2018 over Google’s Project Maven contract with the US Department of Defense to analyze drone footage, which workers feared could be used for violence. Thousands of workers signed a petition against the program and some resigned from the company. The contract would not have been renewed.

That year, Google CEO Sundar Pichai released the company’s Artificial Intelligence Principles, which included a pledge not to design or deploy technology involved in weaponizing, “standard-violating surveillance.” internationally accepted” and technology that violates established human rights laws and principles.

“We want to be clear that while we are not developing AI for use in weapons, we will continue to work with governments and the military in many other areas. These include cybersecurity, training, military recruitment, veterans’ healthcare, and search and rescue. These collaborations are important and we will actively seek other ways to augment the critical work of these organizations and keep service members and civilians safe,” Pichai wrote at the time.

Over the past four years, Google employees have also protested the company’s handling of sexual misconduct, worker activism and politics.

In 2020, Google Cloud reportedly provided services for military technology company Anduril Industries’ surveillance technology used by the US government along the Mexican border. Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus VR, is co-founder of Anduril Industries.

Marxen, who has worked at Google for six years, said the news of Anduril’s job prompted him to become more involved in activism at the company.

He said he was disappointed the company had moved away from candid internal meetings where executives were more open to questions. Employees received no internal response to the Project Nimbus controversy on Wednesday, he said.

Marxen believes that ethical considerations are an afterthought for the company now in favor of profit, and that the principles of artificial intelligence are applied too narrowly. For example, he said customers could potentially misuse Google’s technology, but that wouldn’t be sufficiently covered by the principles.

The employee unrest comes at an increasingly difficult time for Google and its parent company Alphabet, which reported second-quarter revenue growth falling to 13% from 62% a year earlier as advertising spending fell.

Pichai told a conference this week that he wanted to make the company more efficient and productive with fewer resources. Last month, the company slowed its hiring.

Officials at Google Cloud, the same division involved in Project Nimbus, put it more bluntly, saying “there will be blood in the streets” if sales don’t improve, Insider reported.

Roland Li is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @rolandlisf

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