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.