Group of Google Employees Demand Cancellation of $1.2B Artificial Intelligence Project with Israel - The Jewish Voice
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Group of Google Employees Demand Cancellation of $1.2B Artificial Intelligence Project with Israel

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Group of Google Employees Demand Cancellation of $1.2B Artificial Intelligence Project with Israel

Edited by: TJVNews.com

It appears that dissension is growing within the ranks of Google employees as it was recently reported that they are putting collective pressure on the management of the company they are employed by. Their beef with the Google brass swirls around Project Nimbus. It is a $1.2 billion contract through which Google and Amazon.com Inc. provide the Israeli government and military with artificial intelligence and cloud services.

The employees are clamoring for the internet search engine to jettison the contract and are planning public demonstrations to draw greater attention to the controversial cloud-computing contract, according to a report on Bloomberg News. The seven-year contract went into effect in July 2021. Bloomberg also reported that a petition protesting the agreement has received 800 signatures from Google employees, according to one of the organizers.

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that a Google employee who became the most visible opponent of the contract said she would resign after claiming Google had tried to retaliate against her for her activism.

The employee, Ariel Koren, a marketing manager for Google’s educational products arm who has worked for the company for seven years, wrote a memo to colleagues announcing her plan to leave Google at the end of the week, the NYT reported. Speculation have arose that her announcement may have triggered her fellow employees to rally around her and the cause she is battling.

The Times reported that Koren spent more than a year organizing against Project Nimbus and helped circulate petitions and lobby executives. The report indicated that she talked to news organizations, all in an effort to get Google to reconsider the deal.

“Google systematically silences Palestinian, Jewish, Arab and Muslim voices concerned about Google’s complicity in violations of Palestinian human rights — to the point of formally retaliating against workers and creating an environment of fear,”  Koren wrote in the letter explaining her decision to resign, as was reported by the NYT.

Koren also told the NYT that Google sent her an ultimatum in November of 2021. They told her that she would be transferred to their Sao Paolo, Brazil office and if she declines, she would be terminated from the company.

Koren, who is Jewish, opposed Nimbus after it was announced in April 2021 because she was concerned that Google’s technology could help the Israeli Defense Forces surveil and harm Palestinians, as was reported by the NYT.

The NYT reported that Koren is the latest in a string of Google employees who have accused the company of retaliation for their activism. Two, Claire Stapleton and Meredith Whittaker, resigned in 2019 and said they had faced retribution after organizing a worker walkout in 2018 to protest the company’s sexual misconduct policies.

On Wednesday, Bloomberg reported that some former Google employees as well as current employees stood alongside pro-Palestinian activists in San Francisco to call for the Alphabet Inc.-owned company to end Project Nimbus.

Speaking outside Google’s San Francisco offices, employee Gabriel Schubiner said workers went public after their concerns were met with silence internally, Bloomberg reported.

“Google claims that cloud technology is neutral, but technology is powerful, and giving that power to an army that kills without consequences is not a neutral act,” Schubiner said, according to the Bloomberg report. “Given the history of apartheid and violence enacted by Israel, I am horrified by the prospect of what my work as an AI researcher for this company could enable.”

The NYT reported that Shannon Newberry, a Google spokeswoman, said in a statement that “we prohibit retaliation in the workplace and publicly share our very clear policy.”

Newberry added: “We are proud that Google Cloud has been selected by the Israeli government to provide public cloud services to help digitally transform the country. The project includes making Google Cloud Platform available to government agencies for everyday workloads such as finance, health care, transportation and education, but it is not directed to highly sensitive or classified workloads.”

Bloomberg reported that Newberry said the company doesn’t make general purpose facial recognition commercially available and Google remains committed to responsible AI innovation.

Additional demonstrations are planned on Sept. 8 in New York, the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle, according to a statement from the Alphabet Workers Union, which represents some of the employees involved.

Google hasn’t provided specific details of the cloud services it has committed to providing Israel through Project Nimbus, but training materials reviewed by The Intercept showed that the company had touted the capabilities of its image analysis tools to detect faces, facial landmarks and emotions, and to track objects in video, Bloomberg reported.

The backlash to Google’s involvement in Project Nimbus has stretched beyond its employee base, as was reported by Bloomberg.  Earlier this year, Alphabet shareholders proposed that the company’s board issue a report reassessing its role in the Israeli contract. In June, the proposal was overwhelmingly voted down, in line with the Alphabet board’s recommendation to oppose it, according to the Bloomberg report.

 

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