Google and Amazon employees criticize $1.2 billion cloud services contract with Israel

‘We can create a world in which tech companies can thrive without doing harm’

Last week, hundreds of workers at Google and Amazon sent a letter ​to the leaders of their companies demanding they pull out of Project Nimbus, a $1.2 billion contract to provide cloud services for the Israeli military and government. The employees argue in their letter, “This contract was signed the same week that the Israeli military attacked Palestinians in the Gaza Strip – killing nearly 250 people, including more than 60 children…. This technology allows for further surveillance of and unlawful data collection on Palestinians, and facilitates expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements on Palestinian land.”

So far, almost all of the signatories to the letter are anonymous. One exception is Ariel Koren, a product marketing manager in Google for Education, based in San Francisco, who also organizes for Jewish Diaspora in Tech. The Examiner emailed with Ariel Koren about her group’s views and demands.

How has Google reacted to your demands?

Over 1,000 Google and Amazon employees have now signed onto our letter. There is an immense amount of energy among workers, testament to the urgency of this crisis of conscience. While we have not yet heard from leadership of our companies, we hope they will heed this critical call to action.

Why did Amazon and Google employees decide to remain anonymous and what happens now that you and a few others have come forward publicly?

There is a significant fear of retaliation, but we know that we have strength in the people power we’re building together. By coming forward we hope to raise awareness about the right of workers to take ownership and responsibility for the results of our labor.

Do you feel more protected, at least in California, now that Governor Newsom has signed the Silence No More Act?

Any protection for workers speaking out against harassment and discrimination in the workplace is important, and this is no exception. But there is more work to be done. Palestinian employees in particular often face harassment and discrimination when they speak out against corporate collaboration with the Israeli military and government, and are even facing internal backlash for simply calling on their employers to recognize the pain they endured as Palestinians during the most recent Israeli assault on Gaza that killed more than 250 Palestinians.

We know that the 1,000+ employees who’ve joined together across company lines are on the right side of history, advocating for freedom and justice for all. As workers, we have both the right and the responsibility to speak up when the technology we build is used to harm people, as is the case with the Project Nimbus contract with the Israeli military and government.

How do you count or submit anonymous names to Google and Amazon?

The majority of signatories have made their names publicly available internally. In order to protect the workers who have signed on, the names of signatories are not publicly available externally. This is because exposing folks’ names publicly could be dangerous and many workers fear retaliation.

What will Project Nimbus enable for the Israeli public sector and military?

Cloud technology allows for more efficient and expansive data collection. In a nutshell, when this technology is provided to oppressive institutions, those institutions are able to commit more harm. In this context, we know that the Israeli government uses technology to profile Palestinians at checkpoints, surveil Palestinians in Gaza, push Palestinians out of their homes, maintain segregated roads and more. In addition to the military, Project Nimbus will also provide our cloud services to the Israel Land Authority, an agency that enables Israel’s continued expansion of segregated settlements in violation of international law and U.S. policy. Google and Amazon shouldn’t make it easier for the Israeli government to commit these human rights abuses.

What are the chances that Amazon and Google will cancel Project Nimbus?

They’ve cancelled contracts before, and we know that they can do it again. For example, Google terminated Project Dragonfly with China responding to human rights abuses against the Uyghur Muslim community, after Google employees organized and called on the company to live up to its publicly stated values and commitment to ethics.

What is your strategy to make that happen?

We believe that Google and Amazon should not have business models built around profiting from apartheid, oppression, violence and war — and they don’t have to. We can create a world in which tech companies can thrive without doing harm. We hope that Google and Amazon listen to us, the workers that serve and uplift our users every day, as well as the growing numbers of consumers internationally calling on tech companies to live out their ethical principles and affirm human rights.

SF art school investigates theater class practice that had students undressing together

‘I remember being mortified and humiliated’

By Ida Mojadad
Wine in a can: San Francisco startup backed by music heavyweights

Jay-Z and The Chainsmokers backing this year’s hit holiday gift

By Jeff Elder
Is the future of farming moving indoors?

Bay Area startups are using tech to grow food in the face of climate change

By Jessica Wolfrom