More than 1,650 Google employees have signed a letter to CEO Sundar Pichai calling for an end to the company’s contracts with police forces across the U.S. The letter speaks to the myriad of ways Google’s tech contracts are enabling the systems that continue to enable and assist police brutality.
The letter, which was penned by the group Googlers Against Racism, has been circulating inside the company since last week, as protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd continue.
“We’re disappointed to know that Google is still selling to police forces, and advertises its connection with polices 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,” the letter reads.
The open letter is the most vocal dissent we’ve seen from Google employees in a while. Other big tech companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM have taken to heart the way in which their business practices impact not just their customers but the world at large. It’s time for Google to listen to its employees and do its part to dismantle the harmful systems it’s long supported.
Just how much tech are we talking about? — We’re not exactly sure how far Google’s contracts with police forces extend. Most employees are probably in the dark about the full extent of these contracts, anyway, as unless they pertain to their particular division, they won't be involved with them.
The letter speaks to a few sure instances of Google’s police contracts. The company sells cloud-based software through a third-party vendor to at least one police department in Clarkstown, New York — a department that was sued in 2015 for allegedly conducting illegal surveillance on Black Lives Matter protestors. The letter also mentions Google’s indirect support of an Arizona sheriff’s department that tracks people who cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
Google says it wants to help — Google has made big promises lately in terms of improving the company’s diversity. Those promises have included hundreds of millions in pledged funds for investments in Black-owned companies and increasing management diversity to 30% over the next five years.
Google’s plan to increase diversity in the company is extensive. And yet it doesn’t address the elephant in the room: how the company’s technology enables the very systems it says it’s fighting against.
Other companies are stepping up — Google isn’t the only company with business contracts that support institutionalized racism — not by far. Unlike Google, though, some of those companies have already begun to reckon with their enabling.
IBM has decided to halt work on its all-purpose facial recognition software. Both Microsoft and Amazon, meanwhile, have put temporary moratoriums on selling their own facial recognition software for law enforcement.
Google says no thanks — Google’s initial response to its employees’ dissent shows a surprising lack of empathy. A Google spokesperson told The Verge that the company has no plans to end its work with law enforcement or other government agencies.
It seems Google is missing the point here. Providing helpful technology to agencies that actively undermine Black lives is inherently enabling those agencies to continue doing so.
“Why help the institutions responsible for the knee on George Floyd’s neck to be more effective organizationally?” the employees ask in their letter. That’s something Google will need to reckon with if it hopes to truly commit to dismantling racist institutions. Otherwise, it’s all just talk.