Google, Amazon employees 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 from Project Nimbus to provide Israel and its military with artificial intelligence and cloud computing technology.

Some Google and Amazon workers 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 workers 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’s worrying.

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

“This protest group may have its own views on Israel, but that doesn’t impact our work on this contract,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “As we have stated on several occasions, the contract covers workloads performed on our business platform by Israeli government ministries such as finance, health, transportation and education. Today’s protest group twists the contract – our work is not directed to highly sensitive or classified military workloads relevant to weapons or intelligence.

About 200 workers gathered outside Google’s one market plaza office near San Francisco’s Embarcadero, waving signs like ‘no tech for Israeli apartheid’, the latest example of the growing activism of workers in the technology.

There are also allegations of retaliation by Google against workers for speaking out.

Ariel Koren, a chief marketing officer at Google 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, alleged that 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.

Project Nimbus’ reaction follows a 2018 outcry 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 Principles for Artificial Intelligence, which included a commitment not to design or deploy technologies involved in weaponizing, “surveillance that violate internationally accepted standards.” and technologies that violate 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 our work with governments and militaries 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 enhance the essential work of these organizations and keep military and civilians safe,” Pichai wrote at the time.

Over the past four years, Google workers have also protested the company’s handling of sexual misconduct cases, 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. Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey is co-founder of Anduril Industries.

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

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 too narrowly applied. For example, he said customers could potentially misuse Google’s technology, but that wouldn’t be sufficiently covered by the principles.

Employee unrest is getting tougher Google and its parent company Alphabet, which reported second-quarter revenue growth falling to 13% from 62% a year earlier as ad 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 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: roland.li@sfchronicle.com Tweet: @rolandlisf

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