Google employee says she was fired after opposing $1.2 billion cloud contract with Israel, she allegedly faced retaliation from the company

A Google employee claims she was forced to resign for criticizing the company’s $1.2 billion cloud computing plan with the Israeli government. Ariel Koren, marketing manager at Google, opposed Project Nimbus because she feared the company’s technology would help Israeli defense forces surveil and harm Palestinians. In an open letter this week, she said “she had no choice but to leave the company after suffering retaliation and illegal actions” by Google.

Project Nimbus is a three-party agreement between Google, Amazon and Israel signed in 2021 to provide the latter with artificial intelligence (AI) tools and other IT services, including cloud computing. Google and Amazon are expected to set up local cloud sites in Israel with an initial investment of 4 billion shekels ($1.2 billion). These sites will store information within Israel’s borders under strict security guidelines. The Israeli government explained last year that Project Nimbus is a multi-year flagship project that will take place in four phases.

These phases include acquiring and building cloud infrastructure, formulating government cloud migration policy, onboarding and migration, and monitoring and optimizing cloud activity. These cloud services will be made available to the government, defense system, and other groups in the economy. Only, many voices have united against this project, and this, within Google itself. Ariel Koren, marketing manager for Google’s educational products arm, who has worked for the company for seven years, is one such dissenting voice.

In a memo announcing to colleagues that she plans to leave Google at the end of this week, Koren, who identifies as Jewish, claims to have suffered reprisals and describes an environment where pro-Palestinian voices are silenced. Some of his colleagues have also claimed that Google has an anti-Palestinian bias. Koren, 28, has helped circulate petitions and lobby executives and spoke to news outlets, all in an effort to get Google to reconsider the deal. One such petition was signed by more than 800 Google workers and 37,500 members of the public.

According to Koren and other company employees, Project Nimbus violates Google’s AI principles. Koren says the tools provided by Nimbus “have the potential to expand the Israeli model of surveillance, racial profiling and other forms of technology-assisted human rights violations.” Instead of listening to employees who want Google to uphold its ethical principles, Google is aggressively pursuing military contracts and depriving its employees of their voices through a pattern of silence and retaliation toward me and many others,” writes Koren.

As she continued her activism, Koren says Google gave her a startling ultimatum in November 2021: Agree to move to So Paulo, Brazil, within 17 working days or lose your job. Koren marketed Google’s educational products in Latin America and was based in Mexico City before moving to San Francisco during the pandemic. But, according to the employee, there was no clear business justification for the mandatory move or its urgency, and a supervisor in Brazil told him that employees in So Paulo were working from home because of the pandemic.

Koren believes the ultimatum was a “creative” way for Google to force her out without having to fire her. There was a time when Google fired people in retaliation and I think the fact that there’s so much attention means that Google has tried to get a little more creative and retaliation takes different forms than the dismissal, Koren said. Google refuted Koren’s claims and said it prohibits retaliation in the workplace. The company also added that an investigation revealed that there was no form of retaliation against Koren.

We have thoroughly investigated this employee’s claim, as we do when any concerns are raised, and as we have stated for months, our investigation revealed that there was no retaliation here, said a Google spokesperson. A government agency also dismissed the case when the employee filed a complaint alleging she suffered retaliation, the spokesperson added, citing an investigation by the US National Labor Relations Board. But other employees again denounced the project on Tuesday.

Fifteen other Google employees posted audio testimonials on YouTube asking the company not to work with Israel and criticizing Google’s treatment of Palestinians and its censorship of employees who support them. All but two of the workers spoke on condition of anonymity. They published their remarks to coincide with Koren’s departure from the company. However, the Google spokesperson defended the Nimbus project. The company said it was pleased that its cloud capabilities were being recognized and denied claims that the project will be used for surveillance.

We are proud that Google Cloud has been selected by the Israeli government to provide public cloud services to help the country’s digital transformation. The project includes making Google Cloud Platform available to government agencies for day-to-day workloads such as finance, healthcare, transportation, and education. But it’s not aimed at highly sensitive or classified workloads, he said. The Alphabet Workers Union, a union representing workers at Google and other Alphabet companies, defended Koren.

All Alphabet workers have the right to voice their concerns and objections to projects like Nimbus and to organize against them internally, without fear of reprisal. Thousands of Google workers have already organized against military contracts, like Project Maven, and we deserve to do the same now and in the future. Ariel should never have experienced this retaliation and harassment. She should never have been forced into a position where resigning was her only option, said Parul Koul, executive chairman of the Alphabet Workers Union.

Koren is the latest in a string of Google employees who have accused the company of retaliation for their activism. Two of them, Claire Stapleton and Meredith Whittaker, resigned in 2019 and said they faced retaliation after protesting the company’s sexual misconduct policies. In November 2019, Google laid off four employees who had been involved in various organizing efforts within the company. A fifth worker was fired after creating a pop-up message on Google’s corporate network informing workers of their protected right to organize.

The National Labor Relations Board said Google unlawfully fired two of those workers, and unlawfully monitored and retaliated against the others. The company also fired two artificial intelligence researchers, Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell. Both had been on the company’s “Ethical AI” team and had criticized Google’s technology in a research paper. Gebru had said separately that the company’s diversity efforts were insufficient. Of course, Google has always denied any form of pressure or retaliation towards these workers.

Google has recently been talked about for another type of dismissal. In July, he fired an engineer, Blake Lemoine, who claimed the company’s AI was sensitive and leaked corporate documents. Google’s move to punish employees who publicly criticize the company is a notable change for an employer that once nurtured an open corporate culture. Google has long welcomed broad dialogue on its internal online message boards and encouraged its employees to discuss executive decisions in company meetings and other forums.

Additionally, this isn’t the first time Google employees have expressed discomfort with the company’s military and government contracts, arguing that it goes against its original motto, “Don’t be evil. “. The current motto of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is: “Do what’s right”. And sometimes Google seems to listen to these concerns. In the past, Google abandoned Project Dragonfly, its censored search engine for China, and refused to renew Project Maven, its military AI contract with the US Department of Defense.

Sources: Ariel Koren, Complaints from other Google employees

And you?

What is your opinion on the subject?
What do you think of Ariel Koren’s statements?
In your opinion, do employees have the right to criticize the choices of their employers?
If so, why are some employees pushed out after that?
What do you think of the Nimbus project? Do you think it’s against Google’s principles?

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