One of the world’s largest IT companies. Its subsidiary Google provides software and cloud services to US immigration authorities as well as the Israeli government and military and discriminates against Palestinians.
Alphabet Inc is one of the world’s largest companies. Its subsidiaries include Google, YouTube, Fitbit, Nest, and Waymo, among others, and it makes the Android operating system, Pixel phones, the Chrome browser and product line, and many other well-known consumer products. The company provides its Google Cloud Platform and data analytics services to a vast array of consumers.
Cloud Computing for the “Smart Wall” and Sharing user data with ICE
Google is one of the top ten cloud computing providers to the U.S. government, and it provides U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with multiple products and services through third parties. As of June 2021, the company was authorized to provide cloud services to 96 federal agencies, including CBP, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
In 2020, CBP accepted a proposal to use Google Cloud Platform’s “unique product features” to integrate artificial intelligence (AI) into the work of the agency’s Innovation Team (INVNT), which is responsible for enhancing the agency’s use of AI and other advance technologies, including for the so-called “smart wall.” Google’s cloud would reportedly connect with surveillance towers along the U.S.-Mexico border developed by Anduril Industries, capable of autonomously “detecting, identifying and tracking...cross border activity” without a human operator looking at video feeds. It is unclear how exactly Google's services would enhance these towers' capabilities.
Other agencies of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) use Google Cloud Platform through third-party contractors such as Thundercat Technology, which signed contracts with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in 2017, and with CBP in 2019, 2020, and 2021, for multiple Google Cloud and software services. Another company, Four Points Technology, was awarded a $1.3 million contract to provide CBP with Google software in 2020.
Responding to employee concerns about Google’s relationship with CBP, a top company executive defended Google, stating in October 2020 it was “not working on any projects associated with immigration enforcement at the southern border.” However, as immigrant rights activists pointed out, this claim can not be taken at face value, having seen “what CBP is capable of doing at the border under the guise of security.”
In addition to providing IT services, Google also shares its users’ personal information with law enforcement agencies, including ICE, upon request. ICE uses administrative subpoenas, which do not require a court order, to “obtain information as part of investigations regarding potential removable aliens." Google approved 83% of the 40,000 requests it received from law enforcement agencies during six months in 2020. While users can theoretically prevent their information from being shared, they need to request it in federal court within seven days of ICE’s request, even though in certain cases they have no way of knowing about it until later.
As an investor, Alphabet is involved in CBP’s Unified Immigration Portal (UIP). A new system developed by private company Deloitte Consulting, using Salesforce technology, the UIP will facilitate real-time information sharing between CBP, ICE, and other federal agencies, to better track migrants. Alphabet, alongside Amazon, Microsoft, and Salesforce, is an investor in Databricks, a company that provides analytics and AI to the UIP.
Israel's Nimbus Project and other Violations of Palestinian Rights
Google Cloud Platform and Amazon Web Services (AWS) are developing a new cloud infrastructure for the Israeli government. Dubbed Project Nimbus, this is one of the largest technology projects in Israel’s history. The two companies’ role in the project is providing cloud infrastructure for the government, initially through their existing data centers located outside Israel, but from 2023 through new local data centers they are contracted to set up.
Google and Amazon were selected for the Nimbus Project in April 2021 and are splitting the $1.2 billion contract. As part of the contract, the two companies have also committed to “reciprocal procurement and industrial cooperation in Israel at the rate of 20% of the contract value.”
In a separate tender, Israel contracted consulting firm Somekh Chaikin-KPMG, an affiliate of the Anglo-Dutch multinational KPMG, to establish a government cloud migration strategy. In a third tender, which is yet to be concluded as of October 2021, the Israeli government will contract dozens of local companies to migrate its databases and systems to the Google and Amazon servers.
The Nimbus project will serve all the branches and units of the Israeli government. This includes the Israeli military, which also played a leading role in designing the Nimbus tender, as well as the Israeli police, prison service, land authority, and other government entities that administer Israel’s policies of apartheid and persecution. While initially excluded from Nimbus, municipal and local governments will eventually also be able to use the system. This means that Nimbus could also directly serve Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights.
Knowing that this project is controversial and would draw negative public attention to the companies involved in it, the Israeli government built clauses into the contract to prevent them from withdrawing. A government lawyer said the tender was designed to prevent the companies from shutting down services altogether or “denying services to particular government entities.”
In October 2021, hundreds of Google and Amazon employees published a joint statement calling on the two companies to pull out of the project. The workers argue that Project Nimbus “allows for further surveillance of and unlawful data collection on Palestinians, and facilitates expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements on Palestinian land.” The statement further reads,
“We envision a future where technology brings people together and makes life better for everyone. To build that brighter future, the companies we work for need to stop contracting with any and all militarized organizations in the US and beyond.” The workers conclude by calling “on global technology workers and the international community to join with us in building a world where technology promotes safety and dignity for all.”
Project Nimbus is not Google’s first involvement in human rights violations as part of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Google Maps discriminates against Palestinian residents of the occupied West Bank in several ways. Google Maps navigation results assume the users enjoy full freedom of movement and fail to consider the Israeli-imposed restrictions on Palestinians. Many roads in the occupied West Bank are either prohibited or restricted for Palestinian use. The consequences for Palestinians using these roads without a permit, by following Google’s navigation instructions, include arrest, injury, and death.
Google Maps also omits many Palestinian villages, and cannot find a route to major Palestinian towns in the West Bank, while displaying and giving driving directions to even the smallest most remote Israeli settlements in the same area. Google sometimes labels these illegal settlements as located in Israel, even though they are not part of Israel even under Israeli law.
Moreover, Google omits Palestine as a country name, even though it was officially recognized as a state by the U.N. in 2012, while displaying country names like Taiwan and Kosovo, which are not recognized by the U.N. Google further labels Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel, despite multiple U.N. resolutions to the contrary. In contrast, in the case of the Russian occupation of Crimea, Google displays different results for different users, demonstrating its ability to address issues arising from the cartography of occupied territories without taking sides.
YouTube, Google’s online video platform, also discriminates against Palestinians. YouTube employs a double standard with its content moderation policies and practices, blocking Palestinian content on the grounds that it incites violence while allowing similar or more blatant content by Jewish Israelis. In 2018 alone, YouTube deleted more than 45 Palestinian accounts and channels, including two news outlets. Similarly, YouTube censors Palestinian content in the U.S., for example, a 2020 online event at San Francisco State University.
Former Alphabet employees and executives have served in top intelligence positions in the Biden administration. As of July 2021, former Google CEO and Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt served as chairman of an advisory board to the White House and Congress, called the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence. Schmidt was also the founding Chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit, a position he held from 2016 to 2020. Schmidt left Alphabet in 2019 and is now a board member at Rebellion Defense, a defense company that pitches its work as “a modern day Manhattan Project” and “an unconstrained Project Maven,” willing to do “what Google would not.”
The revolving door at Alphabet extends well beyond Schmidt, as “more than 250 Google employees moved back and forth between the company and government during the Obama years.”
From 2003 to June 2021, Alphabet spent $234.1 million on lobbying related to issues including privacy and data security issues, cybersecurity, antitrust policies, artificial intelligence, the U.S. Canada Mexico Free Trade Agreement (USMCA), DoD’s Cloud Services, patent reform, and autonomous vehicles and unmanned aerial systems, among many others. In 2017, Google spent more on federal lobbying in the U.S. than any other company.
In addition to its lobbying expenses, Alphabet has a Political Action Committee (PAC) that spent $9.6 million in campaign contributions from 2005-21. It has donated to both the Democratic and Republican parties through direct contributions and other PACs.
Google has faced backlash for its military involvement. In 2018, Google prepared a bid for a $10 billion contract with the Pentagon to develop the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI), a massive cloud platform for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), but eventually dropped out of the process, emphasizing that it would “continue to pursue strategic work to help state, local and federal customers modernize their infrastructure and meet their mission critical requirements.”
Google had also been involved with Project Maven, a controversial AI-powered drone image recognition solution for the U.S. military. In response, the company’s employees raised concerns about the project, and some resigned, stating such technology might be used for lethal purposes and demanding “that neither Google nor its contractors...ever build warfare technology.” In response, the company did not renew its contract in 2018 for Project Maven, which was subsequently taken over by Palantir Technologies and Anduril Industries.
Separately, the company has faced severe regulatory and legal actions across the globe. In 2020, the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) accused Google of spying on employees to discourage worker organization. In France, Google was fined $163 million for placing tracking devices (cookies) on people’s computers without their consent. Several countries have undertaken antitrust procedures or hearings against Alphabet, including the U.S. federal and state governments, India, and the European Union. In July 2021, Alphabet continued to fight a record $5.15 billion antitrust fine assessed in 2018 by the European Union.
In 2021, a group of Alphabet workers unionized following increasing complaints against the company’s policies on pay, harassment, and ethics.
In December 2020 and February 2021, two members of the company’s Ethical AI team were fired after repeatedly complaining about an array of issues at the company, including sexual harassment, gender bias, and skin color biases that might be present in their AI models. Months prior to the firing of one of these employees, her research into how skin tone affected Alphabet subsidiary Waymo’s self-driving vehicles was obstructed by the company for months.
In 2020, another Alphabet product, Vision AI, which labels images according to the data ingested by the algorithm, incorrectly flagged handheld thermometers in the hands of dark-skinned individuals as firearms, but did not confuse them in the hands of light-skinned persons. The company has updated its algorithm since and no longer produces such results in that specific case. However, this technology is widely used in the U.S. and could “easily have the same biases” when detecting weapons in dark skinned people.