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Google’s challenges are mounting from within as employees call on the company to promise it won’t do business with the Trump administration’s immigration apparatus.
More than 600 Googlers signed a Medium petition challenging Google executives to pledge not to do business with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Employees launched the effort as concerns are growing that Google could be in the running for a new cloud contract that CBP is seeking.
The petition slams CBP for engaging in “human rights abuses at the U.S. Southern border,” and insisted that the company “would be trading its integrity for a bit of profit” if it worked with these agencies.
"We refuse to be complicit. It is unconscionable that Google, or any other tech company, would support agencies engaged in caging and torturing vulnerable people," the employees wrote.
The petition creates another dilemma for Google, which has been forced to respond in recent years to a groundswell of employee activism that is shaping the company’s business decisions on everything from Pentagon contracts to its business plans in China.
The Trump era has sparked a Catch-22 for the company as criticism surges across the political spectrum. The search giant is trying to appease liberal employees who are increasingly taking their beef with the company's positions public, while simultaneously weathering accusations from Republicans — including the president — who say the company is politically biased against conservatives. (Google did not respond to a request for comment on the petition, but the company has repeatedly denied it is biased against conservatives.)
Mark Egerman, a Google Maps product manager who was one of the co-authors of the petition, tells me that he doesn’t believe there is any possible situation where Google will be able to appease Republican critics such as President Trump or Republican Sens. Josh Hawley (Mo.) and Ted Cruz (Tex.).
Egerman calling on Google's leadership to prioritize morality above politics. “I am empathetic toward the leadership, I would not want the president tweeting at me,” he said. “But he’s going to do it anyways, so let’s do the right thing.”
Yet taking a strong stance against working with the Trump administration's immigration agencies could strain an already tense relationship between Google and the Trump administration. The president has escalated his attacks on the search giant in recent months on Twitter. Earlier this month, he unleashed a series of tweets accusing the company of favoring negative news stories about him in the 2016 election, adding his administration is watching the company “very closely.”
Google employees are concerned that the administration will turn to the search giant for cloud products because it is one of the top three providers of such services. Amazon and Microsoft also have significant cloud computing businesses and contracts with the government, and employees at those companies have voiced similar concerns about doing business with immigration authorities. Microsoft employees last year called on the company to cancel work with ICE, and Amazon employees wrote a letter stating they were “deeply concerned” that Amazon is providing infrastructure and services that enable ICE as well as the Department of Homeland Security. (Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
The employee activism on immigration has surged beyond the tech giants. Employees at Boston-based Wayfair recently staged a walkout to protest executives’ refusal to withdrawal from a contract that provided bedroom furniture to a federal detention center for migrants. The Google employees “stand with” the activists within other companies, Egerman said. Employees from Wayfair, Amazon and Microsoft also signed Google’s petition.
The petition is just the latest sign that employee activism at Google is only picking up as employees realize their power to influence company decision-making in a competitive market for tech talent. Last year, Google employees staged a global walkout to protest the company's policy of requiring employees to settle disputes with the company through forced arbitration, which critics said silenced employees who experienced sexual harassment at the company. Google employees also protested the company's controversial plans to build a censored version of its search engine for China, known as Project Dragonfly. A Google executive recently testified that project has been "terminated." Googlers also protested a contract that the company had with the Pentagon, known as Project Maven, due to concerns Google's technology could be used to build artificial intelligence for warfare. The company decided not to renew the contract under the pressure.
Wired’s Nitasha Tiku recently documented the roller-coaster of employee activism confronting Google in this month’s magazine cover story. She writes the wave of employee activism stems from the company's corporate culture: “To invent products like Gmail, Earth, and Translate, you need coddled geniuses free to let their minds run wild,” she writes. “But to lock down lucrative government contracts or expand into coveted foreign markets, as Google increasingly needed to do, you need to be able to issue orders and give clients what they want.”
Egerman said yesterday evening he had not heard a response from Google executives. He hopes they will back employees, as they did in the early days of the Trump administration, when thousands of employees rallied against Trump's travel ban from seven Muslim-majority countries. Google executives including chief executive Sundar Pichai and Google co-founder Sergey Brin joined the employees in voicing concerns over the order.
“We have seen in the past two years Google employees very engaged in fighting for what they believe is right,” Egerman said. “Without clarity from leadership, this is not going away.”
To readers: The Technology 202 is running on a limited schedule during the month of August while Congress is on recess. The newsletter will publish on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays this week and next, and it will not publish the week of Aug. 26. The newsletter will be back full-time after Labor Day.
BITS: Leaders on the House Homeland Security Committee have issued a subpoena to compel the owner of 8chan, the anonymous website with ties to online extremism, to testify in front of Congress. The demand follows a letter Congress sent last week asking owner Jim Watkins to appear, adding greater legal weight to government scrutiny of the controversial forum, my colleague Drew Harwell reports.
“At least three acts of deadly white supremacist extremist violence have been linked to 8chan in the last six months,” the committee’s leaders, chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) and Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-Ala.), said in a statement. “We have questions on what is being done to counter this trend so we can be sure it is being properly addressed.”
8chan has long served as a host for online extremism, but its connection to a recent mass shooting in El Paso accelerated scrutiny of the platform. Lawmakers hosted an April hearing on white supremacy online after a shooter posted his manifesto and a live stream of an attack on a New Zealand mosque to Facebook in March, but 8chan was not included.
Watkins did not return The Post's request for comment but said in a video on Sunday that 8chan would remain down until he has spoken with lawmakers. The site has been down since Internet infrastructure firms withdrew their services last week.
NIBBLES: Facebook wants to make its platform safer by using artificial intelligence and other tools to more proactively moderate content in private and public groups, the company announced yesterday. The updates in group safety follows growing criticism of the ways users employ hidden groups to spread hate speech and conspiracy theories with little recourse.
A new tool called “Group Quality” will allow administrators to see which content was removed or flagged for violating community standards — as well as highlight any false news shared in the group, vice president of engineering Tom Alison wrote in a blog. But moderation still depends on many factors, and many critics argue the tool doesn't go far enough to prevent harm.
“Just in the past month, I reported groups calling for a global purge of Islam, extermination of people based on religion, and calling for violence through a race war, and Facebook’s response was that none of these groups was a violation of community standards,” Megan Squire, a computer science professor and online extremism researcher, told NBC News’ Brandy Zadrozny. Facebook declined to comment to NBC on whether the increased efforts to monitor groups had resulted in any removals, but Brandy reports that some leaders of conspiracy-driven Facebook groups are already reporting increased removals of content.
BYTES: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is asking the Federal Trade Commission's internal watchdog to look into whether the agency misled consumers about how much money they could receive from a $700 million settlement with Equifax, my colleague Tony Romm reports. The agency warned consumers last month that they were likely to get a lot less than the “up to $125" first advertised as a settlement offer.
“The FTC has the authority to investigate and protect the public from unfair or deceptive acts or practices, including deceptive advertising,” Warren wrote in a letter to the FTC’s inspector general. “Unfortunately, it appears the agency itself may have misled the public about the terms of the Equifax settlement and their ability to obtain the full reimbursement to which they are entitled.”
Warren claims that the FTC had conflicting information on its website that did not make it clear that the cash payment probably would be much less than the maximum $125 dollars. After high demand for the cash payout, the FTC released a blog encouraging consumers to choose free credit monitoring services instead and changed the language on its site.
“The option to obtain reimbursement for alternative credit monitoring, as set forth originally in the class action settlement, was never intended to be a cash payout for all affected consumers,” the FTC wrote in a statement to Tony.
— News from the private sector:
-- Brenton Tarrant, the suspect in the Christchurch, New Zealand, shootings sent a six-page letter from prison that has surfaced on the website 4chan following an apparent lapse in correction facility protocol, my colleague Siobhán O'Grady writes. The letter was published after the New Zealand government has gone to great lengths to stamp out extremism online following the shootings, which were broadcast on Facebook and heavily shared on social media.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said the letter should not have been sent, saying Tarrant is someone “who has a very specific goal in mind in terms of sharing his propaganda so we should have been prepared for that.”
“I think every New Zealander would have an expectation that this individual should not be able to share his hateful message from behind bars,” she said.
— News from the public sector:
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