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Google and Amazon Workers Fill Streets To Protest Israel’s ‘Project Nimbus’

Workers rally outside the Google office in New York on Thursday, September 8, 2022.

Workers rally outside the Google office in New York on Thursday, September 8, 2022.
A photo: Mac DeGurin/Gizmodo

“No justice, no peace, techies on the streets!” Those words echoed through the air outside Google’s New York office as workers left for work on Thursday evening. Outside, they faced a street filled with dozens of Google and Amazon employees protesting Project Nimbusa $1.2 billion cloud computing project funded by the Israeli government.

While government technology contracts are usually awarded to one companies, this is not the case with Project Nimbus, a multi-year project that Google and Amazon are collaborating on. The two companies outperformed a potential partnership between Microsoft and Oracle. ad from the Israeli Ministry of Finance earlier this year.

Organizers from Google and Amazon have spent much of the year resisting contact, both domestically and through public appeals, over fears that the Israeli military might use the firms’ tools to surveil or suppress Palestinians.

“Project Nimbus is not Google’s first or last attempt at becoming a military contractor,” Google software engineer Gabrel Schubiner said during a rally in New York. “Please help us prevent Google from becoming an accomplice of apartheid.”

The protesters in New York were just a fraction of tech workers across the country who voiced their opposition to Project Nimbus, with parallel demonstrations taking place throughout the day at Google’s offices in San Francisco, Seattle and Durham, North Carolina.

Taken together, this movement represents the most organized internal opposition to a major technology contract since Google. short-lived The Maven AI project is partnering with the US Department of Defense. But unlike previous efforts, the workers who took to the streets on Thursday showed a willingness to unite. through several companies and states under one single banner.

“This is a significant moment,” one of the organizers said at the start of the rally. “Now is the time to fight back to make sure the technology we’re building works for good.”

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A photo: Mac DeGurin/Gizmodo

Google, for its part, strongly disagrees with the protest characterization of the contract. In a statement emailed to Gizmodo, a Google spokesperson defended the company’s decision to partner with the Israeli government and said workers on the ground were mischaracterizing the technology.

“As we have repeatedly stated, the contract is for workloads run on our commercial platform by Israeli government ministries such as finance, health, transportation and education,” the spokesperson said. “Today’s protest group misrepresents the contract – our work is not focused on high-value or classified military tasks related to weapons or intelligence services.”

Who are the protesters?

Although the protest in New York on Thursday took place under a tall white Google logo, it also featured Amazon workers. “Amazon and Google have no way to justify a contract with a government that has violated numerous human rights and continues to oppress the lives of Palestinians,” Amazon employee Batul Syed told Gizmodo.

The protesters were joined on stage by several activists campaigning for Palestinian rights and against Big Tech’s use of so-called surveillance tools. One of these activists was Linda Sarsour, a veteran PalestinianAmerican activist, formerly served WithosWomen’s March hairstyle.

“We ask the corporation not to violate human rights,” Sarsour said. “We are not asking you to do something that you should no longer be doing. We say: do not be complicit in the violation of human rights.”

Amazon did not respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.

Workers aren’t the only ones putting pressure on Google and Amazon. In recent months, some of the company’s key shareholders have also raised concerns about Nimbus.

In an email to Gizmodo, Kiran Aziz, head of investment at KLP, Norway’s largest pension fund, said she was “deeply concerned” about the project. KLP is an investor in both Google and Amazon and recently pulled out of Motorola due to its alleged involvement in surveillance in the occupied Palestinian territories.

“The human rights situation is getting worse as the Israeli government closes NGOs, expands illegal settlements and increases the killing of civilians, including Palestinian children, in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories,” Aziz said. “Google and Amazon must be aware of the risks and exercise due diligence. KLP is reaching out to both of these corporations to demand transparency and the cancellation of Project Nimbus based on the clear risks of violating fundamental human rights.”

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A photo: Mac DeGurin/Gizmodo

What is the Nimbus Project?

Although few details are known about how Israel plans to implement the Nimbus project, the July report of The Intercept cited internal training documents and videos that indicate part of the effort will provide the Israeli government with a “complete set of machine learning and artificial intelligence tools” on the Google Cloud platform. The documents suggest this could give the government access to facial recognition, object tracking, automatic image categorization and so-called emotion recognition, among other tools.

Previous reports from Washington Post pointed out that the Israeli military already maintains an extensive facial recognition program called Blue Wolf, which is used to track and screen Palestinians living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. According to Mail, military personnel smartly refer to this face database as “Facebook for Palestinians”.

In the past year, several human rights organizations, including Amnesty International as well as Human Rights Watch, took an important step and called the actions of the Israeli military in the occupied territory “crimes against humanity.” Then In OctoberHundreds of Google and Amazon employees sign open letter published in The keeper urging their firms to “sever all ties with the Israeli military.”

“We believe that the technology we create must work to serve people around the world, including all of our users,” the workers wrote. “As the workers who make these companies work, we have a moral obligation to speak out against violations of these core values.”

Maven 2.0 project?

A collective of Google and Amazon workers hope their day of action can reignite the fire in 2018, when a first-of-its-kind tech worker movement forced Google to cancel Project Mavenan artificial intelligence program designed to support the capabilities of the U.S. Department of Defense drones.

Three months later, after reporting the project from Gizmodo and other sources, and growing internal dissent, about a dozen Google employees resigned from their positions in protest. Shortly thereafter, Google retreated and stated that he would not seek a new contract after Project Maven expired.

One of Google’s leading voices against Project Maven claims she was forced out of her seven-year job last week in retaliation for her activism. AT previous interview with Gizmodo, Ariel Coren, a former Google marketing manager, described the atmosphere of hostility towards pro-Palestinian voices. Coren and fellow activists sent numerous emails to Google officials expressing concern about the firm’s continued ties to Israel and that those calls either went unheeded or ignored. Frustrated, Coren went public and helped create several petitions urging Google to drop Nimbus. One of those petitions received the signatures of over 800 Google employees and 37,500 members of the public.

“Instead of listening to employees who want Google to live up to its ethical principles, Google is aggressively executing military contracts and depriving its employees of their voice, silencing and retaliating against me and many others,” Coren wrote in an interview. open letter days before her retirement.

Coren says that Google, a company Once praised by employees for communicating openly about business decisions, she began to keep more secrets during the Maven days, heightening tensions over the government contract.

“The Nimbus is an extension of that model,” Coren said. “When Google launched Nimbus, they didn’t count on their workforce at all. They were extremely secretive.”

The same pattern appeared to play out last year when Google employees said they were stunned by the news that the company was actively working on a new cloud contract with the Pentagon called Joint Cloud Warfare Capabilities. This aspiration has never been articulated for workers. Google Program Manager talking to Gizmodo said at the time that their team did not know about the program until it appeared on New York Times Web site.

“Workers should have the absolute right to know what their work is aimed at,” the program manager said. “They should also be able to refuse or speak out against the use of workers in unethical ways.”

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