Behind the Google Workers Protests Over the Israeli Government’s Cloud Agreement

Ariel Koren, one Google The employee, who has become the face of worker protests against the company’s contract with the Israeli government, announced his resignation yesterday. The Jewish marketing director said she has faced retaliation from management and some colleagues for expressing pro-Palestinian views within the company. In October she joined other Google and Amazon employees in public outcry with Project Nimbus, a $1.2 billion deal for Google and Amazon to provide cloud computing to Israel, including its defense ministry. She said that Google then gave her an ultimatum: Agree to move to Brazil within 17 days or lose her job.

Leaked training materials for Interceptor show Project Nimbus provides Israel with access to Google’s cloud AI services, including face and expression detection, video analytics, and sentiment analysis. Koren and others were concerned that the technology would be weaponized against Palestinians living in the occupied territories and launched a campaign called There is no technology for discrimination. Despite previous workers’ objections to defense contracts, Google recently expanding its defense business.

On Wednesday, Koren, along with other current and former Google employees and Palestinian rights activists, said outside one of the company’s offices in San Francisco to protest Project Nimbus. Workers at both Google and Amazon plan to protest at company offices in San Francisco, New York and Seattle next month.

Google did not respond to detailed questions, but spokesperson Shannon Newberry wrote in a statement that the company investigated Koren’s lawsuit and found no retaliation. US National Bureau of Labor Relations dismiss Koren’s case accusations of retaliation. Newberry says that Google’s cloud contract with Israel is “not directed to highly sensitive or classified workloads”.

Koren spoke to WIRED about being an outspoken critic inside Google, which has previously fired employees who condemn the company’s business practices and Project AI. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

WIRED: When did you decide to organize with colleagues to put pressure on Google management?

Ariel Koren: In summer 2020. The Jewish staff group, the Jewglers, of which I am a member, received an email from Google formally apologizing for the donation to Black Lives Matter. The group’s leadership complained that this was inherently anti-Semitism because the Movement for Black Life coalition included organizations that had expressed affiliation with the Palestinian human rights movement.

We were furious to see the company apologize for donating to the coalition that is leading the fight against racism and anti-black violence in America. We organized a letter from corporate Jews calling on leadership to withdraw their apology. Instead of crediting our letter, Google donated to groups chosen by the leadership of the Jews. For us, this is a weapon of false narratives about anti-Semitism. At that point, we knew we needed to stand our ground.

How did that lead to protests over Project Nimbus’ contract with the Israeli government?

Google has not provided any transparency to shareholders, the public, or its own workforce about what this contract entails. We learned about it through the media and talked to each other. The contract is announced in 2021, in [an outbreak of violence between Israel and Palestine]. It would be relevant to see an AI or surveillance contract of this size at any time, with any military. It only added to the outrage when Google announced this in the midst of the siege in Gaza.

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