Google employees push back against company’s reported plans to help Pentagon

After a bid by the tech giant’s parent company, Alphabet, for a lucrative Pentagon cloud-computing contract, Google’s employees have hit back – three years on from a worker protest that led to a prior defense deal being scuttled.

Alphabet has been “aggressively pursuing” the Defense Department’s (DoD) Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability (JWCC) contract, the New York Times reported earlier this week, noting that the organization viewed it as a priority. The initiative – a successor to the Pentagon’s failed ‘war cloud’ project – apparently aims to use “artificial intelligence to gain an advantage on the battlefield.”

In a tweet in response to the report, the Alphabet Workers Union expressed frustration that Google was thinking only about its “bottom line,” and promised that its “workers [would] fight this ... and win again.” The employee union reportedly has around 800 members.

It is no surprise that Google has continued seeking lucrative contracts with the Defense Department. They have spent years firing organizers and limiting transparency because the bottom line is all that matters to [them].

According to the Insider news outlet, some employees have mocked Alphabet on internal forums and posted memes about its new DoD courtship on its Memegen platform. One meme apparently had Google CEO Sundar Pichai rebranding the company as Pentagon – a reference to Mark Zuckerberg having recently renamed Facebook Meta.

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Google trying to help Pentagon ‘gain an advantage on the battlefield’ – media

“There is a point where a company makes enough and shouldn’t have to compromise its morals just in the name of eternal growth,” read another employee meme that was seen by the outlet, which also reported on memes referencing the company’s failed 2018 Project Maven deal with the Pentagon.

Three years ago, some 4,000 employees petitioned Pichai to end the Project Maven program, which saw Google using machine-learning to analyze US drone-targeting capabilities. Although the company said its tech was involved in “non-offensive uses only,” internal outrage forced it not to renew the Pentagon contract and to publish a set of ethical guidelines for future military artificial-intelligence work, which included not causing “overall harm.”

Despite those guidelines – which saw Google drop out of a bidding war for the Pentagon’s failed Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract – Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian reportedly met with Air Force Chief of Staff General Charles Q. Brown on Tuesday to “make the case” for the firm to be part of the JWCC contract.

It remains unclear whether the JWCC contract would violate Google’s stated principles, and the company has not commented on specific use cases for its tech. A spokesperson told Insider it was “firmly committed” to serving the DoD and other public-sector customers.

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