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Google Employees Ask CEO to End Company’s Work With Police

Mark Bergen

(Bloomberg) -- More than 1,600 Google employees demanded Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai end the sale of the company’s technology to law enforcement, in a move they say would provide action to buttress statements against police brutality.

The workers, in a signed letter to Pichai, cite a software contract with a police department in suburban New York and some of Google’s investments as conflicting with the Alphabet Inc. company’s opposition to racism and police misconduct. Last week, Pichai announced that the company is creating a $175 million package for Black businesses and job seekers in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the anti-racism protests that followed.

“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,” the Google employees’ letter said.

After the letter was published, Google released a statement that said the company wouldn’t agree to its demands. “We have longstanding 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,” a spokeswoman said in an email.

“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 statement also said.

Some other major technology companies have recently backed away from partnerships with police. Amazon.com Inc. suspended the sale of its facial-recognition systems to law enforcement for a year, while Microsoft Corp. said it wouldn’t offer the technology until the government regulates it. Google stopped offering its off-the-shelf facial recognition services in 2018.

Google has trailed those two rivals in selling cloud technology to government agencies, but is trying to catch up. One contract with a police force Google has touted is with the department in Clarkstown, about 40 miles north of New York City, for the use of Gmail, Google Drive and other G Suite services.

In the letter to Pichai, the Google staff cite a 2017 lawsuit from the Black Lives Matter group against Clarkstown and its police department that officers “illegally surveilled” protesters there. Additionally, the Google staff called out investments from Gradient Ventures, one of the company’s investment arms, which were tied to work with the military and police.

In recent years, Google employee activism has shelved projects with the U.S. Defense Department and in China, as well as prompted new policies in the treatment of contract staff. However, Google hasn’t responded to employee demands from last summer to ban work with U.S. border patrol agencies.

“We want to be proud of the company we work for,” the newest letter reads.

(Updates with Google comments in fourth paragraph.)

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