More than 1,600 workers at Google have put their name to a letter to CEO Sundar Pichai demanding that the company stop selling its products and technology to police departments.
The move comes amid growing calls for police reform as part of efforts to tackle systemic racism.
Noting the protest movement that began with George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, and which has since expanded globally “into a rebellion against racism and police terror,” the letter demands that Google ends its ties with police departments and stop selling everything from its relatively innocuous G Suite software (Google Docs, Gmail, etc.) to more contentious facial recognition software.
The letter, signed by “Googlers against racism,” highlights several cases, including that of Gradient Ventures, a venture capital arm of Google that focuses on supporting artificial intelligence-related companies, one of which has helped police to track people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
It also mentions Google’s ongoing contract with Clarkstown Police in New York, which the employees point out “has been sued multiple times for illegal surveillance of Black Lives Matter organizers.” In a “customer story” on the Google Cloud site, the police department says how it’s able to save up to $30,000 a year in IT licensing costs by using Google products.
“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,” the letter says, adding, “Why help the institutions responsible for the knee on George Floyd’s neck to be more effective organizationally?”
The employees told Pichai: “We want to be proud of the company we work for. We want the company we build to speak to our values and how we want to show up in the world.”
The letter follows a message to employees posted a week ago by Pichai in which he laid out new commitments to racial equity within the company that included increasing Black employees in senior positions and an ambition to expand leadership representation of underrepresented groups by 30% in the next five years. The web giant also promised to invest $175 million in supporting Black business owners, startup founders, and job seekers.
In a re-evaluation of how its technology is used, Amazon earlier this month imposed a one-year moratorium on police use of its facial recognition technology, called Rekognition. It arrived at the decision after activists pressured members of Congress to regulate or ban the use of the technology for police activity, and said it wants Congress to consider imposing tighter regulations on the technology before the moratorium ends.
In a similar move, IBM announced recently that it will no longer develop facial recognition software, saying it would “not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms,” or for any purpose that is not consistent with its values and principles.
Digital Trends has reached out to Google to find out about its response to the letter, and whether it intends to continue working with police forces, and we will update this piece when we hear back.
- Democratic lawmakers propose nationwide facial recognition ban
- Police are still using Microsoft’s high-tech surveillance system
- Experts: Facial recognition will be everywhere, whether you like it or not
- IBM will no longer develop or research facial recognition tech
- Microsoft won’t sell facial recognition technology to police