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Google Workers Call For Company To Cease Selling Technology To Police Departments

An internal letter distributed amongst Google employees argues that the tech giant "should not be in the business of profiting from racist policing.”

Over 1,600 Google employees have signed a letter distributed internally to CEO Sundar Pichai urging him to cease the company’s business dealings with police departments across the United States. 

The letter, published in full by Business Insider and confirmed by HuffPost, was signed by “Googlers Against Racism,” and reportedly began disseminating last week. It stresses that “Google is profiting off of ... racist systems,” referring to the company’s donations to police foundations and continual supplying of technology to law enforcement departments across the nation.

“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 reads. “Why help the institutions responsible for the knee on George Floyd’s neck to be more effective organizationally? Not only that, but the same Clarkstown police force being advertised by Google as a success story has been sued multiple times for illegal surveillance of Black Lives Matter organizers.”

The aforementioned police force is the focus of a Google Cloud “Customer Story” article highlighting how switching to G Suite and other Google products helped the police department of Clarkstown, New York, save “$20K to $30K a year on IT licensing costs alone.” According to local outlet The Journal News, in 2019 the Clarkstown Police settled a civil rights lawsuit filed two years prior alleging that the department had racially profiled and unlawfully surveilled members of Black Lives Matter, including putting snipers on rooftops during rallies.

The letter also expresses disappointment with the company “helping law enforcement track down immigrants with drone surveillance footage.” This is a reference to Cogniac, a company funded via Google’s Gradient Ventures venture fund that has provided software to identify individuals crossing the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

In a statement issued to HuffPost by a Google spokesperson, the tech giant will not be ending its dealings with the police. 

“We’re committed to work that makes a meaningful difference to combat systemic racism, and our employees have made over 500 product suggestions in recent weeks, which we are reviewing,” the spokesperson said. “On this one, we were the first major company to decide, years ago, to not make general purpose facial recognition commercially available and we have very clear AI Principles that prohibit its use or sale for surveillance. We have long standing terms of use for generally available computing platforms like Gmail, G Suite and Google Cloud Platform, and these products will remain available for governments and local authorities, including police departments, to use.”

Google’s statement refers to its lengthy explanation of facial recognition technology which argues that the company has been “cautious about deploying face recognition in [its] products, or as services for others to use.” In an early June interview with The New York Times, Timnit Gebru, technical co-lead of Google’s Ethical Artifical Intelligence Team, argued that such technology was dangerous, since it could “still be used in a way that is detrimental to certain groups of people,” but added that while she believed the tech should be banned, she “didn’t know about the future.”