Google employees demand company stop selling tech to police

A growing group of more than 1,666 Google employees is demanding Google stop selling its technology to police departments, TechCrunch has learned.

“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,” employees wrote in a letter to Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai. “Why help the institutions responsible for the knee on George Floyd’s neck to be more effective organizationally? Not only that, but the same Clarkstown police force being advertised by Google as a success story has been sued multiple times for illegal surveillance of Black Lives Matter organizers.”

Google, for example, has publicized how Clarkstown Police Department uses G Suite for sharing information and digital evidence. Meanwhile, Google is also a partner and donor to the Seattle police foundation and its venture capital arm, GV, has invested in startups working on artificial intelligence technology for police.

“We’re committed to work that makes a meaningful difference to combat systemic racism, and our employees have made over 500 product suggestions in recent weeks, which we are reviewing,” a Google spokesperson told TechCrunch. “On this one, we were the first major company to decide, years ago, to not make facial recognition commercially available and we have very clear AI Principles that prohibit its use or sale for surveillance. 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.”

In the letter, employees go on to say they want to be proud of the company they work for. They also want Google to speak to their values, the letter says.

“The racist legacy of police across the United States goes all the way back to its roots, when police forces emerged to protect the wealth gotten from slavery and genocide,” the letter states. “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. We should not be in the business of criminalizing Black existence while we chant that Black Lives Matter. We, the undersigned Googlers, call on you to stop making our technology available to police forces.” 

Google employees have been able to successfully pressure the company to drop contracts in the past. After employees petitioned Google to stop working on Project Maven, Google decided not to renew its contract with the Pentagon for that project. Then, in October 2018, Google dropped out of the running for JEDI, the big cloud computing contract with the Pentagon.

Google is not the only tech company that has contracted with police departments and other law enforcement agencies. Salesforce, for example, has long held a contract with Customs and Border Protection, despite protest from employees and others.

Some positive change, however, has occurred. Earlier this month, IBM said it would no longer sell its facial recognition technology, which has become a tool for policing and mass surveillance. Meanwhile, Microsoft recently said it won’t sell facial recognition technology to police without federal regulation and Amazon halted police use of its facial recognition tech for one year. These were direct responses to the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man.

In response to Floyd’s death, Pichai noted in an email to employees that “Our Black community is hurting, and many of us are searching for ways to stand up for what we believe, and reach out to people we love to show solidarity.”

He also outlined how Google will give $12 million to racial justice organizations. Since then, Pichai has elaborated on Google’s commitments to racial justice. Internally, for example, Google committed to improving diverse representation at the leadership level by 30% by 2025.

“We want Google to take real steps to help dismantle racism,” employees wrote. “We as a society have moved past the point where saying Black Lives Matter is enough, we need to show it in our thinking, in our words and in our actions that Black lives do matter to us.”