Google employees petition company to cancel police contracts

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Google employees petition company to cancel police contracts

Sundar Pichai, CEO of GoogleAnindito Mukherjee | Bloomberg | Getty ImagesGoogle employees are signing an internal petition, calling on the company

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Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google

Anindito Mukherjee | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Google employees are signing an internal petition, calling on the company to stop selling technology to police departments.

The letter, with the headline “No Police Contracts,” began circulating last week and has been signed by more than 1,100 employees, who identify themselves as part of “Googlers Against Racism.” The document, which CNBC viewed, asks CEO Sundar Pichai to “take real steps to dismantle racism,” and alleges that Google is “profiting” off racism with business contracts.

“We as a society have moved past the point where saying Black Lives Matter is not enough, we need to show it in our thinking, in our words and in our actions that Black lives do matter to us,” the petition says. “The past weeks have seen a renewed energy and momentum fighting racism. They have also shown us that addressing racism is not merely an issue of words, but of actions taken to dismantle the actual structures that perpetuate it. While we as individuals hold difficult but necessary conversations with our family, friends and peers, we are also incredibly disappointed by our company’s response.”

Last week, Pichai said the company will commit $175 million towards supporting black businesses in response to the killing of George Floyd by a police officer and the worldwide protests that followed. The company also said it plans to increase “underrepresented” people in its leadership and end peer-based badge checking, deferring to security teams.

Signers of the petition want the company to go farther. They say they’re disappointed that the company’s artificial intelligence technology is being used by law enforcement to “track down immigrants with drone surveillance footage” and claim that the company’s political action committee, funded by money from employees, donates “to racist politicians and white supremacists.”

It’s not the first time Google employees have objected to government work. In 2018, the company said it would not renew a satellite image-based defense contract called Project Maven after it was set to expire in March 2019. The announcement came after thousands of Google employees signed a letter urging their CEO to pull out of the contract, and about a dozen staffers resigned in protest.

In this case, employees say they want the company to stop selling technology to agencies that, they say, are using it for harm. The letter criticizes Google for citing the New York-based Clarkstown Police Department as a featured user of Google Cloud, the same agency that “has been sued multiple times for illegal surveillance of Black Lives Matter.”

The signers say they want to be proud of their employer and are thus compelled to speak out.

“The protest movement that began with George Floyd’s murder has expanded across the US and around the world, developing into a rebellion against racism and police terror,” the petition says. “Why help the institutions responsible for the knee on George Floyd’s neck to be more effective organizationally?”

The internal dissent comes after Amazon and Microsoft recently said they wouldn’t be selling their facial recognition technology to police agencies. While Google told CNBC it doesn’t make facial recognition technology commercially available and prohibits the sale for surveillance, a spokesperson said the company would continue to offering its other cloud technologies to government bodies, including police departments. 

Google Cloud spokesperson Cynthia Horiguchi said in an email that employees have recently made over 500 product suggestions that are being reviewed by the company. Here’s the full statement:

“We’re committed to work that makes a meaningful difference to combat systemic racism, and our employees have made over 500 product suggestions in recent weeks, which we are reviewing. On this one, we were the first major company to decide, years ago, to not make facial recognition commercially available and we have very clear AI Principles that prohibit its use or sale for surveillance. We have longstanding terms of use for generally available computing platforms like Gmail, GSuite and Google Cloud Platform, and these products will remain available for Governments and local authorities, including police departments, to use.” 

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