Google workers and Palestinian rights activists call on company to divest from involvement in cloud and artificial intelligence contract with Israeli government and military, following allegations the tech giant has retaliated against an employee for being publicly critical of the deal
Sebastian Klovig Skelton,
Published: 01 Sep 2022 10:30
A group of Google workers and Palestinian rights activists are calling on the tech giant to end its involvement in the secretive Project Nimbus cloud computing contract, which involves the provision of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) tools to the Israeli government.
Calls for Google to end its involvement in the contract follow claims made by Ariel Koren, a product marketing manager at Google for Education since 2015 and member of the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU), that she was pressured into resigning as retaliation for her vocal opposition to the deal. She has since accused the tech giant of “complicity in Israeli apartheid”.
Announced by the Israeli Finance Ministry in April 2021, the $1.2bn Nimbus contract is “intended to provide the government, the defense establishment and others with an all-encompassing cloud solution”, and is being jointly built by Google and Amazon.
While it is still unclear exactly how the Israeli government will use Nimbus, training documents and videos obtained by The Intercept in July 2022 indicate it would give it capabilities for facial detection, automated image categorisation, object tracking, and even sentiment analysis that claims to assess the emotional content of pictures, speech and writing.
In 2021, B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International all formally accused the Israeli government of committing crimes against humanity by maintaining an apartheid system against Palestinians.
The Google employees and rights activists have said they fear how the technology will be used against Palestinians, and highlighted that Google’s own AI principles state the company will not design or deploy AI technologies that are likely to cause harm, violate international norms against surveillance, or violate international law or human rights.
According to Koren, who is Jewish, after publicly speaking out against Google’s involvement in Nimbus, she was told by her bosses in November 2021 that her role had been moved to Sao Paulo in Brazil, and that she could either commit to the relocation or lose her job.
“I was told the forced relocation was based on business priorities, however the Sao Paulo office was still working from home and there was no demonstrable need for me to be physically located in Sao Paulo, much less in the middle of a pandemic,” she wrote in an open letter published 30 August 2022, adding that while Google’s human resources team did eventually acknowledge to her that the relocation was “improper and harmful”, it continues to claim there is “no evidence of retaliation”.
In response to Computer Weekly’s questions, a Google spokesperson claimed the company’s policies clearly prohibit retaliation in the workplace: “We thoroughly investigated this employee’s claim, as we do when any concerns are raised, and as we’ve stated for many months, our investigation found there was no retaliation here. A government agency also dismissed this case when the employee filed a claim alleging she experienced retaliation.”
The spokesperson added: “We are proud that Google Cloud has been selected by the Israeli government to provide public cloud services to help digitally transform the country. The project includes making Google Cloud Platform available to government agencies for everyday workloads such as finance, healthcare, transportation and education, but it is not directed to highly sensitive or classified workloads.”
Koren, however, maintained: “Instead of listening to employees who want Google to live up to its ethical principles, Google is aggressively pursuing military contracts and stripping away the voices of its employees through a pattern of silencing and retaliation towards me and many others.”
Part of the issue, says Koren, is that Google’s management is weaponising its diversity and inclusion systems by only listening to and taking into account the views of a particular set of Jewish workers that support the actions of the Israeli government.
Koren claimed while this group of Jewish workers – self-described as “Jewglers” – was ostensibly set up to support “all Jewish people at Google”, in practice it functions “as an outlet to drive forward right-wing ideologies under the guise of promoting diversity”.
She further claimed members of this group were involved in censoring and harassing other employees with different, more critical views on the actions of the Israeli government, which included sending “aggressive messages to our Arab and Muslim colleagues”.
At one point, Koren and 626 other Google workers wrote to the company’s executives about Jewglers’ inherent bias, but received no response. Instead, Koren said Google’s management decided to meet with the Jewglers steering committee.
“In spite of widespread dissent from progressive Jews, the company was platforming Jewglers as the sole authority on Jewish identity at Google,” said Koren.
Computer Weekly contacted Google about its alleged tendency to side with pro-Israeli government Jewish voices over other, more critical perspectives – as well as the alleged conducted of the Jewglers group – but received no response on this point.
In response to Koren’s resignation, the AWU is also calling on Google executives to divest from Project Nimbus and to stop suppressing the freedom of speech and organising efforts of workers raising ethical concerns.
“It is the right of all Alphabet workers to voice our concerns and objections to projects like Nimbus and organise against them internally, completely free from fear of retaliation,” said Parul Koul, executive chair of the AWU. “Thousands of Google workers have previously organised against military contracts, like Project Maven, and we deserve to do the same now and in the future. Ariel should never have faced this retaliation and harassment. She should never have been forced into a position where resigning was her only option.”
More than 700 Google employees and 25,000 others have now signed a petition calling on the company to rescind Koren’s relocation order.
This is not the first time employees have voiced their opposition to Google’s role in Nimbus. In October 2021, for example, workers from both Google and Amazon signed a letter condemning their involvement in Project Nimbus, which they claimed “allows for further surveillance of and unlawful data collection on Palestinians, and facilitates expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements on Palestinian land”. The letter was signed by more than 90 Google and 300 Amazon workers, all signed anonymously, “because we fear retaliation”.
In May 2021, however, The Times of Israel reported that the Israeli government’s contracts with Google and Amazon bar the firms from denying services to particular government entities. The Finance Ministry said this would ensure continuity of service, even if the companies come under pressure in other jurisdictions to boycott the Israeli government.
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NASA Says Hurricane Didn’t Hurt Artemis I Hardware, Sets New Launch Window
NASA’s Artemis I moon mission launch, stalled by Hurricane Ian, has a new target for takeoff. The launch window for step one of NASA’s bold plan to return humans to the lunar surface now opens Nov. 12 and closes Nov. 27, the space agency said Friday.
The news comes after the pending storm caused NASA to scrub the latest Artemis I Iaunch, which had been scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 2. As Hurricane Ian threatened to travel north across Cuba and into Florida, bringing rain and extreme winds to the launch pad’s vicinity, NASA on Monday rolled its monster Space Launch System rocket, and the Orion spacecraft it’ll propel, back indoors to the Vehicle Assembly Building at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.
The hurricane made landfall in Florida on Wednesday, bringing with it a catastrophic storm surge, winds and flooding that left dozens of people dead, caused widespread power outages and ripped buildings from their foundations. Hurricane Ian is “likely to rank among the worst in the nation’s history,” US President Joe Biden said on Friday, adding that it will take “months, years, to rebuild.”
Initial inspections Friday to assess potential impacts of the devastating storm to Artemis I flight hardware showed no damage, NASA said. “Facilities are in good shape with only minor water intrusion identified in a few locations,” the agency said in a statement.
Next up, teams will complete post-storm recovery operations, which will include further inspections and retests of the flight termination system before a more specific launch date can be set. The new November launch window, NASA said, will also give Kennedy employees time to address what their families and homes need post-storm.
Artemis I is set to send instruments to lunar orbit to gather vital information for Artemis II, a crewed mission targeted for 2024 that will carry astronauts around the moon and hopefully pave the way for Artemis III in 2025. Astronauts on that high-stakes mission will, if all goes according to plan, put boots on the lunar ground, collect samples and study the water ice that’s been confirmed at the moon’s South Pole.
The hurricane-related Artemis I rollback follows two other launch delays, the first due to an engine problem and the second because of a hydrogen leak.
Hurricane Ian has been downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone but is still bringing heavy rains and gusty winds to the Mid-Atlantic region and the New England coast.
What You Get in McDonalds’ New Happy-Meal-Inspired Box for Adults
You’ve pulled up to McDonald’s as a full-on adult. You absolutely do not need a toy with your meal, right? Joking. Of course you do.
The fast-food chain will soon sell boxed meals geared toward adults, and each one has a cool, odd-looking figurine inside.
The meal has an odd name — the Cactus Plant Flea Market Box — that’s based on the fashion brand collaborating with McDonald’s on this promotion.
According to McDonald’s, the box is inspired by the memory of enjoying a Happy Meal as a kid. The outside of the box is multicolored and features the chain’s familiar golden arches.
The first day you can get a Cactus Plant Flea Market Box will be Monday, Oct. 3. Pricing is set by individual restaurants and may vary, according to McDonald’s. It’ll be available in the drive-thru, in-restaurant, by delivery or on the McDonald’s app, while supplies last.
You can choose between a Big Mac or 10-piece Chicken McNuggets. It will also come with fries and a drink.
Now about those toys. The boxes will pack in one of four figurines. Three of the four appear to be artsy takes on the classic McDonald’s characters Grimace, Hamburglar and Birdie the Early Bird, while the fourth is a little yellow guy sporting a McDonald’s shirt called Cactus Buddy.
In other McD news, Halloween buckets could be returning to the chain this fall. So leave some room in your stomach for a return trip.
Why companies like iHeartMedia, NBCU rely on homegrown IP to build metaverse engagements
To avoid potential blowback from a skeptical audience, retailers as well as media and entertainment companies are learning to invest in their homegrown intellectual properties while building virtual brand activations inside Roblox or Fortnite.
Take, for instance, when they get it wrong.
Earlier this week, Walmart launched its own Roblox world — called Walmart Land — and was roundly mocked for it across social media given the announcement’s disjointed brand message and apparent lack of life. In one viral tweet, a Twitter user described a clip of Walmart CMO William White introducing the Roblox space as “one of the saddest videos ever created.”
To some extent, this sort of criticism is to be expected during the early days of the metaverse.
“Walmart is an iconic brand; when you see them coming into a platform like Roblox, people are going to be 10 times more critical of what is being launched,” said Yonatan Raz-Fridman, CEO of the Roblox developer studio Supersocial.
But Walmart’s size is not its only disadvantage as it dips its toes into Roblox. Although Walmart has a widely recognizable brand, it owns few intellectual properties that users are actually interested in experiencing virtually — a shortcoming reflected by the somewhat cavernous emptiness of Roblox’s Walmart Land.
The success of other recent brand activations is evidence that media and entertainment brands are better equipped to build metaverse spaces that can dodge online skepticism, thanks to their wealth of owned IP.
“They are having to reinvent themselves, to a certain degree, but that is in their DNA,” said Jesse Streb, global svp of technology and engineering at the agency DEPT. “So they have a unique advantage over, say, some kludgy company that sells lumber, or a construction company.”
For example, iHeartMedia’s Roblox and Fortnite spaces were inspired by the mass media corporation’s wealth of popular real-life events, such as the Jingle Ball Tour and iHeartRadio Music Festival, with virtual versions of musicians like Charlie Puth performing pre-recorded concerts that allow real-time audience interaction.
“There’s a strong brand association with the IP, down to a station level — you’re in the New York area, you probably know Z100,” said iHeartMedia evp of business development and partnerships Jess Jerrick. “The same is true for the event IP, or the IP that we now have in the podcasting space, and of course our radio broadcast talent. So there’s no shortage of really strong IP we can bring into these spaces.”
Translating real-life properties into the metaverse is also an enticing prospect for brands that view metaverse platforms as an experimental marketing channel, allowing them to bring tried-and-true IP into their virtual activations instead of designing them from the ground level. This was part of the strategy behind the recent Tonight Show activation in Fortnite Creative, which was designed in collaboration between NBCUniversal and Samsung. “We’re looking at it holistically — how do we find fans in new ways, and use IP that fans love in new ways?” said NBCU president of advertising and client partnerships Mark Markshall.
Since opening on Sept. 14, iHeartLand has already enticed over 1.5 million Roblox users to visit. The company aims to retain that attention with a schedule of virtual programming featuring popular musicians and personalities.
“At our core, we are essentially an influencer network; our broadcast talent are some of the most connected, most engaging influencers at work in media today,” said Conal Byrne, CEO of iHeart Digital Audio Group. “That gives us this sort of superpower, to be able to go into new-ish platforms, like Roblox or Fortnite, because we talk to our listeners through those influencers.”
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