Google Employees Demand End To Police Contracts In Letter To CEO

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The letter calls out Google’s cloud business, as well as work with police and military through Gradient Ventures, the company’s venture capital arm. Google employees have sent a letter to CEO Sundar Pichai demanding that the search giant stop selling its technology to police forces, a call that comes as people around the world urge for police reform as part of efforts to end systemic racism. As of publication, more than 1,600 Google workers had signed the letter, which was viewed by CNET.

The letter calls out Google’s work with police and military through Gradient Ventures, a venture capital arm of the search giant that was founded in 2017 and focuses on artificial intelligence. The employees also criticize Google’s cloud division for touting its relationship with the Clarkstown Police Department in New York. Using Google’s G Suite productivity apps, the search giant said it’s helped the department save $20,000 to $30,000 on IT licensing costs. Google also said its software “accelerates evidence gathering and processing.”

The call Google to end police contracts comes as the US has been swept by protests following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was killed in police custody. The killing has spurred calls to defund police departments across the country. “We’re disappointed to know that Google is still selling to police forces, and advertises its connection with police forces as somehow progressive, and seeks more expansive sales rather than severing ties with police and joining the millions who want to defang and defund these institutions,” the letter reads. “Why help the institutions responsible for the knee on George Floyd’s neck to be more effective organizationally?”

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In a statement, Google said it has policies that guide how it deploys artificial intelligence, but said it won’t stop selling its technology to law enforcement. “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,” a spokeswoman said.

This isn’t the first time Google employees have protested against the company’s work with military and law enforcement. Two years ago, workers at the search giant protested Google’s contract with the Pentagon for Project Maven, an initiative that uses artificial intelligence to improve analysis of drone footage. Thousands of workers signed a petition opposing the contract, and a handful of employees resigned in protest.

The letter about police contracts criticizes Google’s business dealings while it publicly supports the Black Lives Matter movement. Google last week announced a $175 million package to support Black business owners, startup founders and developers. Days after Floyd’s killing, Google displayed a black ribbon on its homepage, with the caption: “We stand in support of racial equality, and all those who search for it.” In a tweet announcing the homepage tweak, Pichai said the company stands with the Black community.

“We have a long way to go to address the full legacy of racism but to begin with — we should not be in the business of profiting from racist policing,” Monday’s letter to Pichai says. “We should not be in the business of criminalizing Black existence while we chant Black Lives Matter.”

 

Police are getting warrants to obtain tracking data from Google that locates every device near a crime scene. The system is called Sensorvault within the company, but a Google user might know it as Location Services. The New York Times’ Jennifer Valentino-DeVries reported on how the data can ensnare innocent people, and she joins CBSN with more.

 

 

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