Google facing another rebellion over Government contracts

676 employees have signed a petition refusing to work with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) suggesting the agency is violating international human rights.

While public sector contracts can prove to be incredibly fruitful for the cloud giants, the questionable activities of the US Government have led to a number of different objections from Silicon Valley employees. Google is the focal point of this campaign, but it is not the only one which is experiencing internal uprisings.

“It’s time to stand together again and state clearly that we will not work on any such contract,” the rebelling Googlers wrote on Medium. “We demand that Google publicly commit not to support CBP, ICE, or ORR with any infrastructure, funding, or engineering resources, directly or indirectly, until they stop engaging in human rights abuses.”

Over the next few weeks, the CBP will begin the procurement process to identify a new supplier to cloud-based services, for a minimum of a four-year period, potentially beginning in the second quarter of 2020. The contract is incredibly wide-ranging, with various components including security, identity and access management, public cloud storage and data backup, disaster recovery, network management and orchestration and virtualisation.

As you can see from all the components above, taken from one of the RFI documents, this could be an incredibly lucrative contract for the winner. However, these 676 employees want to make sure it is not Google who profits from the misery this agency inflicts on hundreds of individuals.

This is where the dispute lies. Google traditionally has a culture which is incredibly liberal and leftist, and therefore attracts employees who fit this description. A proportion of these employees will object to policies enacted by the current occupant of the White House.

While the employees are reacting to the treatment of refugees on the Southern Border from the CPB, but also the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), the rebels have pointed towards Google’s own AI principles.

Google has attempted to take the lead on creating an ethical and morally sound approach to AI, stating it would not pursue technologies where the ‘purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights’. Should the management team want to continue this contract, it would certainly irritate a significant number of Googlers, but the inference would be the activities on the Southern border are legitimate. This would simply add fuel to the fire.

“History is clear: the time to say no is now,” the statement concludes. “We refuse to be complicit.

“It is unconscionable that Google, or any other tech company, would support agencies engaged in caging and torturing vulnerable people. And we are not alone — the world is watching, and the facts are clear. We stand with workers and advocates across the industry who are demanding that the tech industry refuse to provide the infrastructure for mass atrocity.”

This is of course not the first time Googlers have rebelled against the power of its technology being used to questionable means. Back in April, Google’s management team caved to employee pressure, ditching a valuable contract for the US military which used its AI smarts to make drone strikes more accurate.

What Google is fast-finding out is that its employees still believe the ‘Do No Evil’ mantra, even if it has been officially dropped by the company.

It should be noted that Google is not the only company with rebellions and idealistic employees. Last year, Amazon faced a similar internal uprising, this one focused on the application of its facial recognition technologies by police forces and government agencies, some of which had little oversight, almost zero accountability and conducted no public consultation. The general public should at least have the right to decide whether it wants to sacrifice personal privacy rights in the pursuit of safety and national security.

“In the face of this immoral US policy, and the US’s increasingly inhumane treatment of refugees and immigrants beyond this specific policy, we are deeply concerned that Amazon is implicated, providing infrastructure and services that enable ICE and DHS,” the Amazon rebels stated.

“We refuse to build the platform that powers ICE, and we refused to contribute to tools that violate human rights.”

There will of course be other examples outside of the cloud giants, though what is worth noting is the precarious tight-rope walk Silicon Valley is being forced to tread currently.

On one hand, these company have a fiduciary responsibility to make money for shareholders; the management team cannot simply ignore lucrative contracts if they want to keep their jobs.

However, these companies also have a reputation to protect. This reputation is what attracts the world’s best and brightest engineers and continuing to attract these individuals is one of the most important elements of the business model. The ‘Do No Evil’ mantra of Google is a perfect example of what attracts young, idealistic and enthusiastic graduates, the valuable resource which underpins success.

The people who work for Google or Amazon, do not want to help the government blow things up, evolve the US into a Big Brother surveillance state or help morally bankrupt individuals violate the decency of individuals from a different country, culture or religion. This is not what they signed-up for.

However, money men are mostly blind to these arguments. They will invest in oil companies irrelevant of the environmental damage, arms companies irrelevant of the harm to human life and bankers irrelevant of their reputation in society. These are people who are tasked with making money, and they demand profits from the Google management team.

This is a very delicate situation to balance, and we suspect it won’t be too long before the vocal and boisterous Googlers are objecting to something else.

Google cloud dives deeper into the data dreamland

Google’s cloud business unit has announced the acquisition of data analytics firm Looker for $2.6 billion, further expanding products available in the ever-growing world of cloud.

While another acquisition at Google is nothing out of the ordinary, this happens to be the first under the tenure of Thomas Kurian, the newest CEO of the cloud business. Kurian took the reigns from Diane Greene at the beginning of this year, after Greene failed to deliver on the hype which surrounded her appointment.

“A fundamental requirement for organizations wanting to transform themselves digitally is the need to store, manage, and analyse large quantities of data from a variety of sources,” said Kurian in a blog announcement. “Google Cloud offers customers a broad and integrated suite of cloud services to ingest data in real time, cleanse it, process it, aggregate it in a highly scalable data warehouse and analyse it.

“Looker extends our business analytics offering with two important capabilities—first, the ability to define business metrics once in a consistent way across data sources. This makes it easy for anyone to query data while maintaining consistent definitions in their calculations, ensuring teams get accurate results.

“Second, Looker also provides users with a powerful analytics platform that delivers applications for business intelligence and use-case specific solutions such as Sales Analytics, as well as a flexible, embedded analytics product to collaborate on business decisions.”

With Looker being integrated into the Google proposition, the cloud team will have something more interesting to talk about. Kurian has discussed a more complete analytics solution, including visualisation of results and integration into daily workflows, as well as the ability to make more customisable solutions for the verticals.

Another interesting benefit of this acquisition is building Google’s ability to work in a multi-cloud landscape. Although any cloud company will want to pigeon hole enterprises into their own products, bleeding customers is of course more profitable, it is not realistic in today’s world. If you do not have a proposition which is interoperable with other cloud providers, you are not going to be attractive to customers.

There are numerous examples of this being an important factor of the cloud world of tomorrow. The Data Transfer Project is an initiative to build a common framework with open-source code that can connect any two online service providers, while Vodafone Business and IBM came together to create a joint-venture aiming to solve the problem presented by multi-cloud interoperability.

As part this acquisition, Google is also inheriting the ability to play in this world, bumping its ability to bring together data from SaaS applications like Salesforce, Marketo, and Zendesk, as well as traditional data sources.

Google Cloud has seemingly been losing out to the likes of Microsoft Azure and AWS in recent years, a factor which reportedly contributed to Greene’s downfall. This is not to say the cloud business is not successful, but it is not tearing up trees at the same rate as the two market leaders.

Perhaps this is only one of the first announcements we should expect from Kurian over the next couple of months. This is a man who needs to make his mark on the business, but also close the gap Microsoft and Amazon have created at the top of the cloud rankings.

AI and security sets us apart from the crowd – Google Cloud CEO

Google Cloud is not winning the cloud battle with AWS and Microsoft Azure right now, but with security credentials and artificial intelligence smarts, CEO Diane Greene thinks the future looks profitable.

Speaking at Google Next ’18 event in London, Greene claims superior security and industry-leading AI are differentiators for Google Cloud which will lead it to the top of the rankings. This is a business which is not shy about spending its way to success, the last 18 months have seen huge amounts spent on infrastructure to fuel momentum in the cloud business, but it’s the value which Google Cloud can add to operations, not simply a pricing war and availability, which is the recipe for success.

“We’re still early in the cloud, only 10% of workloads are in the cloud, but this is where all the digital transformation is coming from,” said Greene. “There are bottom line and top line benefits. Cloud is becoming a working structure to how you can enforce change in companies.”

“It’s our AI, data analytics and security. AI is everyone’s biggest opportunity, and cybersecurity is everyone’s biggest threat, and Google has the best of these. AI is built into everything we do, completely infused into G-Suite. This is such a powerful technology and we’re so proud to have the world’s leading experts. It has such a power for good but we see the concerns in the world.”

This is of course not a new message. Artificial intelligence has been a talking point for Google Cloud for some time but why is it different today? Because the cloud is now normalised.

Considering how long the concept of cloud computing has been around, and the money which is spent each year, it is amazing to think only 10% of workloads have been moved to the cloud and there are still organizations out there who are resisting. However, most enterprise-scale or forward-looking businesses are taking a cloud-first approach to business. This is evidence the cloud has been normalised, and suggests the industry could become commoditized before too long.

Commoditization is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when you look at the room for growth. With the likes of Google, AWS and Microsoft Azure offering massive scale, the commoditization business model works and it also makes the cloud more accessible for those who have not considered migration so far. Initiatives like the Data Transfer Project, which aims to standardize cloud environments to allow for easier migration of data from one provider to another, will also help rollout cloud everywhere else, but this also helps Google.

With the idea commoditized, Google Cloud can start focusing further up the value chain, leveraging the capabilities which it has in-house. Security is an excellent differentiator to bring customers into the fray, though the value-added services in data analytics and artificial intelligence could set Google apart from the crowd.

AirAsia is a good example, as Greene ushered CEO Tony Fernandez onto the stage during the keynote session. AirAsia has leveraged the power of the cloud to continually build his business, the airline now has 250 planes, 200,000 staff and will serve 90 million customers this year, but this year the focus is on enhancing the business with artificial intelligence. The team are working on several areas from predictive maintenance of aircraft, through to weather predictions to inform customers of potential delays, and also using facial recognition to improve the customer experience. This is where Google Cloud can prove its worth; the value add for customers who have already embraced the concept of cloud computing.

Through Deepmind Google has created an artificial intelligence foundation which can be rivalled by few in the technology world. Having acquired the company for roughly $500 million, a bargain in an era of multi-billion dollar acquisitions, the Oxford scientists are providing value throughout the Google universe. On top of this, Greene highlighted investments in Google Brain, a separate deep-learning research team, an Advanced Solutions Lab in Dublin, as well as AI training workshops in 20 European countries.

Google might be losing the battle to secure the commoditized cloud business, AWS is a clear and runaway winner here, though the value-add segment of cloud is starting to emerge. The opportunity to build more advanced solutions on top of a basic cloud-orientated business model is perhaps another segment which will certainly be attractive. This is a segment which will be defined by artificial intelligence.

AWS and Microsoft Azure are both eyeing up the AI world with their own investments, though Google has arguably put itself in the lead through years of acquisition and investment in product areas with an eye on tomorrow’s profitability. The long-game might be starting to pay off.