There are a number of tech companies that either directly work with law enforcement agencies, or supply their tech to them. Amazon’s doorbell camera company Ring has partnered with more than 1,300 police departments and Amazon Web Services sells its product to U.S. Immigration and Customers Enforcement. Meanwhile, Google sells its G Suite tools to police departments, Microsoft has contracts in place with Seattle police and Microsoft-owned GitHub also has partnerships in place with ICE. There’s also Nextdoor, which partners with police departments through its Agencies app.
It’s partnerships like those that have prompted the creation of the Tech Is Not Neutral campaign, which is spearheaded by Kairos Fellowship in partnership with The Movement for Black Lives, Media Justice and others.
“Seeing how tech companies were responding to the uprising for Black liberation and the Black Lives Matter movement — there were a bunch of CEOs saying Black Lives Matter or making whatever statement, but we have seen how tech companies interplay with our lives and our democracy,” Kairos Fellowship campaign manager Jelani Drew-Davi told TechCrunch. “Tech companies’ products have real-life consequences for people, and for Black and people of color, we are the ones most affected by technology when it doesn’t work for us. This campaign’s aim is to make it work for us.”
The campaign kicked off in early July with an open letter written to big tech CEOs. The letter, addressed to leaders at Amazon, Microsoft, Nextdoor and Google, urges them to take action for Black lives. But the campaign’s main focus right now is on Nextdoor and Microsoft, Drew-Davi said. In June, Nextdoor turned off its feature that allows people to forward information to police, but the folks at the Tech Is Not Neutral campaign say more needs to be done.
“Nextdoor connects thousands of people in neighborhoods and they’ve had a super well-documented racism problem for years,” Drew-Davi said. “That, combined with partnerships with police, gives people this one-way street for reporting Black people to police. That’s a problem. The response from Nextdoor has been we’ll train moderators, but they have not said we’ll cut ties with police, which is the number one thing they could do to protect Black people on their platform.”
With Microsoft, in addition to contracts with Seattle’s police department, the company is also battling for a $10 billion contract with the U.S. Department of Defense. Meanwhile, Microsoft has had more than 5,000 subcontracts with the DoD and other law enforcement agencies since 2016.
“Microsoft has been so deeply intertwined with our government and policing around the country on local state and federal levels and they’re quiet about it,” Drew-Davi said. “And we didn’t know about it until that article came out. Microsoft is an important company to watch. The more we can uncover this and shine a spotlight on Microsoft, the more people recognize what these household names are doing that harm us.”
The immediate next steps for the campaign are to pursue conversations with these companies, come up with specific demands and escalate them, if companies don’t agree to them, Kairos Fellowship executive director Mariana Ruiz Firmat told TechCrunch.
“This feels so important to us because it’s often the idea of neutral that tech company’s hide behind to allow racism and their platforms to be used in ways that spread authoritarianism or disrupt our democracy,” Firmat said. “It’s a long-term battle but we want to change the way in which we understand the role of tech companies and change the idea of neutral to being biased.”
Microsoft declined to comment for this story, and Nextdoor, Google and Amazon did not respond to our request for comment.