Tech workers are in the streets because there is no justice or peace. As employees left for the day on Thursday evening, those words reverberated through the air outside Google’s New York City office.
They were confronted by dozens of Google and Amazon workers protesting Project Nimbus, a $1.2 billion cloud computing initiative supported by the Israeli government, on the street outside.
Project Nimbus, a multi-year project involving Google and Amazon, deviates from the usual practice of awarding government tech contracts to a single company.
According to a statement made earlier this year by Israel’s Finance Ministry, the two companies defeated a potential alliance between Microsoft and Oracle.
Due to worries that the Israeli military could weaponize the tools of the two companies to be used to spy on or oppress Palestinians, organizers at Google and Amazon have spent the better part of a year opposing the contact, both internally and through calls to the public.
Google software engineer Gabrel Schubiner stated at the rally in New York that “Project Nimbus is neither Google’s first nor last attempt to try and become a military contractor.” Please support our efforts to prevent Google from supporting apartheid.
Tech workers across the nation protested Project Nimbus, with parallel events taking place all day at Google offices in San Francisco, Seattle, and Durham, North Carolina, in addition to those in New York.
The movement as a whole represents some of the best-organized internal opposition to a significant tech contract since Google’s short-lived Project Maven AI agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense.
The workers who took to the streets on Thursday, however, showed a willingness to unite across various businesses and states under a single banner, in contrast to earlier attempts.
At the beginning of the rally, an organizer declared, “This is a monumental moment.” “It’s time to fight back and make sure the technology we create is for good,” the author says.
Google, on the other hand, strongly objects to how the protestor characterizes the contract. An email response from a Google representative to Gizmodo defended the company’s choice to collaborate with the Israeli government and claimed local staff members were misrepresenting the technology.
According to the spokesperson, “as we have stated numerous times, the contract is for workloads run on our commercial platform by Israeli government ministries such as finance, healthcare, transportation, and education.
“Today’s protesters are misrepresenting the terms of the contract; our work is not focused on highly sensitive or classified military workloads related to the production of weapons or intelligence services.”
Who are the protestors?
Amazon employees were present at the demonstration on Thursday in New York City, which took place beneath a massive white Google logo. An Amazon employee named Bathool Syed told Gizmodo that there was “no way for Amazon or Google to justify a contract with a government that has committed numerous human rights violations and still oppresses Palestinian lives.”
A number of activists speaking out against Big Tech’s use of purported surveillance tools and in favour of Palestinian rights joined protesters on stage. Among them was Linda Sarsour, a seasoned Palestinian-American activist and former co-chair of the Women’s March.
According to Sarsour, “We are requesting that a corporation not violate human rights.” “There is nothing that we are asking you to do that you shouldn’t already be doing. We’re urging people not to participate in human rights abuses.
Gizmodo’s request for comment from Amazon was unanswered.
Not just employees are putting pressure on Google and Amazon. Key shareholders of the company have recently voiced their worries about Nimbus as well.
The project is “deeply concerning,” according to Kiran Aziz, head of investments at KLP, the biggest pension fund in Norway, in an email to Gizmodo. KLP has recently sold its Motorola stock following allegations that the company helped to spy on Palestinians in the occupied territories. KLP is an investor in both Google and Amazon.
According to Aziz, “the human rights situation is getting worse as a result of the Israeli government closing down non-governmental organizations, enlarging illegal settlements, and increasing the killing of civilians, including Palestinian children, in the illegally occupied Palestinian Territories. Google and Amazon need to be cautious and aware of the risks.
Due to the obvious risks of violating fundamental human rights, KLP is writing to both of these corporations to demand transparency and to ask them to halt Project Nimbus.
About Project Nimbus
Although little is known about how Israel intends to carry out Project Nimbus, a July report from The Intercept cited internal training documents and videos that suggest the initiative will give the Israeli government access to a “full suite of machine learning and AI tools” from the Google Cloud platform.
According to the documents, this could grant the government access to tools for object tracking, facial recognition, automatic image classification, and so-called emotion recognition, among others.
According to earlier articles from The Washington Post, the Israeli military already employs a sophisticated facial recognition program called “Blue Wolf” to track and survey Palestinians residing in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The Post claims that soldiers sarcastically refer to that database of faces as “Facebook for Palestinians.”
The actions of the Israeli military in occupied territory were referred to as “crimes against humanity” last year by a number of human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Then, in October, a large number of Google and Amazon employees published an open letter in The Guardian urging their companies to “cut all ties with the Israeli military.”
According to the workers, “We believe that the technology we build should work to serve and uplift people everywhere, including all of our users.” We have a moral responsibility to speak out against violations of these fundamental principles as the employees who keep these businesses afloat.
Project Maven 2
The group of Google and Amazon employees is hoping that their day of protest will rekindle some of the passion that was present in 2018 when a pioneering tech worker movement forced Google to halt Project Maven, an AI initiative designed to enhance drone capabilities for the U.S. Department of Defense.
Around a dozen Google employees resigned from their positions in protest three months later, in response to reporting on the project from Gizmodo and other publications, as well as growing internal dissent. Soon after that, Google changed its mind and announced that once Project Maven expired, it would not look for a new contract.
One of the most prominent Google employees speaking out against Project Maven claims she was forced to resign from her position of seven years last week in retaliation for her activism.
The former Google marketing manager, Ariel Koren, spoke negatively about pro-Palestinian voices in a previous interview with Gizmodo.
Koren and other activists emailed Google representatives frequently to express their disapproval of the company’s continued relationship with Israel, but their pleas went unanswered or were dismissed.
Koren became frustrated and publicly supported several petitions urging Google to stop using Nimbus. Over 800 Google employees as well as 37,500 regular people signed one of those petitions.
Days before she resigned, Koren wrote in an open letter that “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,” rather than listening to the workers who want the company to uphold its ethical principles.
According to Koren, Google, a company that was once praised by staff for its open communication regarding corporate decisions, started keeping more secrets around the time of Maven, which increased tensions surrounding the government contract.
Nimbus, according to Koren, is a continuation of that pattern. “Google was not at all open with their workforce when they launched Nimbus. They kept themselves very well hidden.
According to Google employees, the same thing happened last year when they claimed to have been taken by surprise when they learned that the company was actively pursuing a new cloud contract with the Pentagon, known as the “Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability.”
Workers were never informed of that goal. The program hadn’t been made known to the Google team until it appeared on The New York Times website, according to a Google program manager who was speaking with Gizmodo at the time.
The program manager affirmed that employees should have the legal right to know how their labor is being used. They ought to be able to oppose using workers’ labor for unethical purposes or to speak out against it.