A former Google employee who worked there for over a decade alleges she is being pressured to retire because she spoke out against the company’s secret $1.2 billion cloud project with the Israeli government.
On Tuesday, marketing manager Ariel Koren announced her resignation in an open letter published on Gizmodo. Koren, who identifies as Jewish, claims that she was subjected to retaliation and “illegal activities” by Google and that she ultimately felt she “had no choice but to leave the firm” this week.
Koren is a prominent activist at Google, having spearheaded various petitions urging the corporation to back out of the Project Nimbus contract. Over 800 Google employees and 37,500 members of the general public signed one of those petitions.
Koren and other Google employees believe that Project Nimbus violates Google’s own AI standards since it would supply artificial intelligence and cloud tools to the Israeli government and military, while information about the project is still few. “have the potential to increase Israel’s pattern of monitoring, racial profiling, and other sorts of tech-assisted human rights violations,” as Koren puts it, according to the Nimbus tools offered.
To paraphrase what Koren said, “Google is actively seeking military contracts and stripping away the voices of its employees through a pattern of silence and punishment towards me and many others,” rather than listening to employees who want Google to live up to its ethical standards.
According to Koren, “there was a period when Google would just terminate employees in order to react,” but now that there is so much attention, the company has sought to “become a little more creative”
A Google representative responded, “We extensively reviewed this employee’s claim, as we do when any concerns are presented, and as we’ve indicated for many months, our investigation showed there was no retribution here.”The spokeswoman continued by expressing sympathy for the Project Nimbus representative who had contacted them.
“We are happy that Google Cloud has been selected by the Israeli government to provide public cloud services to help digitally change the country,” the statement continued. Project goals include making Google Cloud Platform accessible to government organizations for common tasks like finance, healthcare, transportation, and education; it is not intended for classified or secretive tasks.
According to reports, 750 Google employees signed a petition opposing the alleged retribution earlier this year, and Koren filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations board. According to the NYT, both Google and the National Labor Relations Board looked into the claim and found nothing incorrect.
Terminating employees who have spoken out against Google has come under intense criticism in recent years. To protest Google’s dismissal of AI ethicist Timnit Gebru for raising issues with the company’s diversity procedures, more than 1,500 workers signed a petition in 2020.
In a statement emailed to Gizmodo, the Alphabet Workers Union, which represents employees at Google and Alphabet’s other firms, supported Koren.
In fact, Koren’s criticisms of Google stretch far beyond Project Nimbus and into the very fabric of the firm itself. She believes that Google “systematically silences” its Palestinian, Jewish, Arab, and Muslim employees who try to speak out against the company’s ties to the Israeli government. Koren outlined a culture at Google where employees who voice criticism are typically silenced.
However, Koren emphasized that employees are encouraged to share their pro-Israeli sentiments within the workplace, calling the organization “very tolerant” of such speech.
On Tuesday, fifteen more Google employees, including several who identify as Palestinian, released testimonies exposing anti-Palestinian bias throughout the firm, echoing the concerns expressed by the original group.
One Google employee wrote, “Working at Google was always my ideal job until I discovered Project Nimbus.” One can even say that “I feel like I am making a living off the persecution of my family back home.”
When another Google employee said, “As a Palestinian, my sentiments of marginalization only deepened when I began to see my coworkers issued warnings solely for having empathy for Palestinians,” that statement hit close to home.
All of this may seem familiar because Google has been here before, albeit in a different country. Approximately a dozen Google employees quit in 2018 in protest of the company’s Project Maven military contract, a contentious program in which Google offered artificial intelligence capabilities to the United States Department of Defense for analyzing drone imagery.
With so many employees leaving and a groundswell of activism sweeping the firm, Google decided to scrap Project Maven. There have been rumors circulating since last year that Google has taken an active interest in a new cloud computing project being undertaken by the Pentagon.
When asked about Google’s latest response to employees’ criticism of Nimbus, Koren told Gizmodo that it was an “extension” of the company’s measures following the backlash from Project Maven. The culture of openness and transparency within Google, as described by Koren, allegedly changed after the Maven release. Similar comments have been made by previous Google employees to Gizmodo.
That trend will continue with Nimbus,” Koren explained. When Nimbus was first released, Google did not disclose how many employees were involved. They acted with a great deal of secrecy.