Googlers are standing up in preemptive protest amid concerns that government agencies associated with ICE are preparing to call for bids on a new cloud computing contract. That's according to a recent Medium blog post put together by organizers and reflecting an open letter to the company.
Specifically, the organizers indicate that they want no part in new contracts that would serve US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). A decision from Google to take the contract would result in work to "streamline" the agency's cloud-based infrastructure. That would ultimately be a move to help facilitate human rights violations perpetrated by CBP, the workers say.
The protesters cite several violations by the CBP and related agencies in their call to the company. That includes agencies such as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Activities by those organizations cited by the workers include detainment and searches of US citizens, refugees, and the separation of children from parents. The workers also directly point to the 'caging' of asylum seekers and at least 7 deaths associated with that.
Those activities and others are not only illegal by world standards but completely immoral, the Googlers say. The protesters point out that participating in work to aid the agencies would directly violate the search giant's AI Principles. The sentiment stems from statements related to not selling AI as well as its promises to "create a diverse, inclusive, and psychologically safe workplace for all its workers."
This 'no ICE' preemptive protest could go either way
Google's track record responding to outcry from and even the possibility of outcry from its workers has been mixed. In some cases, the company has chosen to simply keep things it is working on hidden from employees. That was the case with its decision to work on government-sponsored projects not just for the US. It's been a tactic taken by Google for the Chinese market too.
In most cases, the company has made concessions or abandoned projects in an attempt to right its course based on employee demands. That hasn't always worked out, sometimes resulting in further protests and calls to action. Historically, Google has left behind government projects its employees protest against. But that won't necessarily be the case this time. So it could feasibly go in either direction.
As such, Googlers are effectively demanding that their employer doesn't work with any of the above-listed agencies.
The preemptive call not to engage with the new project has been signed by no fewer than 817 Googlers. That includes mostly Software Engineers but also project managers and signers from other units throughout the search giant's ranks. 64 other signatories are involved too. Those are former Googlers, in addition to workers from other organizations, universities, and businesses such as Amazon, Wayfair, and Microsoft.
…and will probably have repercussions for Googlers
While the variety of Googlers on the list will likely have the most impact, those individuals could also face severe repercussions for taking part.
Google has repeatedly claimed that it takes the views expressed by its workers seriously. It says that it does not engage in doling out consequences when they rebel either. Those sentiments haven't always been clearly mirrored by the actions of senior management at the company.
Workers have protested in the past about systemic abusive practices holding women and minorities back as well as against government-related projects and activity. In at least some of those cases, workers who organized the gatherings have faced ultimatums, position reassignment, or demotion. Most have ultimately left the company altogether amid claims of unfair treatment and pressure from higher-ups.
While not guaranteed, it isn't out of the question that the preemptive rally against ICE, CBP, and ORR by Googlers will go in a similar direction and result in similar consequences for protest organizers.