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Artificial Intelligence: Google workers demand company stop selling tech to police

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Over 1,600 Google workers have signed an open letter demanding the company stop selling its technology to police. Addressed to CEO Sundar Pichai, the petition references ongoing protests against racism and police brutality sparked by George Floyd’s death, and calls Google out as “profiting off…racist systems.”

“We want Google to take real steps to help dismantle racism,” says the letter, which has been circulating at Google since Wednesday. “We as a society have moved past the point where saying Black Lives Matter is enough, we need to show it in our thinking, in our words and in our actions that Black lives do matter to us.”

Stating that workers are “incredibly disappointed” in Google’s response to the protests, the petition calls Google out not only for selling its products to police, but proudly advertising it. Specifically, the letter refers to the use of Google’s G Suite by the Clarkstown Police Department in New York — an organisation that has previously been sued for illegal surveillance of Black Lives Matter activists. The letter also condemns Google for indirectly helping law enforcement use drones to track immigrants, and donating to racist politicians.

“Why help the institutions responsible for the knee on George Floyd’s neck to be more effective organizationally?” asks the letter.

SEE ALSO: Google Doodle recognizes Juneteenth, unlike the federal government

Google has not been completely silent in the wake of the protests. Earlier this month, Pichai wrote another open letter expressing solidarity with the Black community and announcing Google would give $12 million to organisations working to address racial inequality. Last week he revealed initiatives to hire more Black workers at all levels, providing them support within the company, and announced Google would give $175 million in support of Black business owners and job seekers.

However, Google’s workers have rightly pointed out the company can’t claim to care about Black lives while simultaneously helping and profiting from the structures that endanger them. 

“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,” says the letter.

“We have a long way to go to address the full legacy of racism but to begin with — we should not be in the business of profiting from racist policing. We should not be in the business of criminalizing Black existence while we chant that Black Lives Matter.”

SEE ALSO: Google tells employees to stop ‘raging’ about politics and fall in line

Worker unrest at Google has previously borne results. In 2019, the company declined to renew its contract with the U.S. Department of Defence after thousands of workers signed a petition in protest, some even resigning. Under the contract, Google was to use artificial intelligence to improve the targeting capabilities of military drones.

This new petition is still continuing to gather signatures, though whether it will be met with similar action remains to be seen. Mashable has reached out to Google for comment.

“We…call on you to stop making our technology available to police forces,” the letter ends. “None of us is free until all of us are free.”

UPDATE: June 25, 2020, 9:12 a.m. AEST A Google spokesperson has responded to Mashable with this statement: “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. 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.”

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