In its enviable tradition of employee dissent, Googlers have used this moment of civil unrest to reassess their company’s relationship to police. The verdict, according to over 1,600 of them, is that there shouldn’t be one.
Accordingly, a petition began circulating last Wednesday asking CEO Sundar Pichai to end all sales of its products to police. Yes, all — from the obviously nefarious on down to the enterprise versions of its ubiquitous Gsuite software, like Gmail and Google Docs.
Past actions in the tech space have often focused what might be called Obviously Immoral Decisions by companies with outsized power and influence. Google’s short-lived drone work with the Department of Defence; Amazon’s aid to our detention and deportation apparatus; Facebook’s treatment of its content moderators. Shrinkingly few people will defend a company’s right to give its own workers PTSD, or to hunt down and imprison children.
At first blush, there’s a vast chasm between those past action and denying cops the sort of basic interoperable productivity software most of us take for granted. Still, as one Googler who requested anonymity told Gizmodo, the effects are the same even if the software itself is less immediately an accomplice to the project of racist policing. There’s no acceptable amount of money for a company to make off of extrajudicial killings. “Americans are grappling with the historical legacies of slavery and genocide that the country is built on, and have begun to identify the role of the police forces in maintaining a fundamentally white supremacist system,” the petition reads, “Google is profiting off of these racist systems, and we believe this means Google is part of the problem.”
The petition is reproduced below; we’ve reached out to Google for comment and will update if we hear back.
We are writing you this letter to demand that Google stop selling our technology to police forces.
The protest movement that began with George Floyd’s murder has expanded across the US and around the world, developing into a rebellion against racism and police terror. Americans are grappling with the historical legacies of slavery and genocide that the country is built on, and have begun to identify the role of the police forces in maintaining a fundamentally white supremacist system. The demand to defund the police has been raised in city after city, as the first step in ending that system permanently.
The past weeks have shown us that addressing racism is not merely an issue of words, but of actions taken to dismantle the actual structures that perpetuate it. While we as individuals hold difficult but necessary conversations with our family, friends and peers, we are also incredibly disappointed by our company’s response. We want Google to take real steps to help dismantle racism. 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.
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. 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 organisers.
We’re disappointed that Google is helping law enforcement track down immigrants with drone surveillance footage, through Gradient Venture’s financial and technical investments. Google is encouraging employees to give their money to Google’s PAC, only for Google to then donate to racist politicians and white supremacists. Google is profiting off of these racist systems, and we believe this means Google is part of the problem.
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.
The racist legacy of police across the United States goes all the way back to its roots, when police forces emerged to protect the wealth gotten from slavery and genocide. 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.
We, the undersigned Googlers, call on you to stop making our technology available to police forces.
None of us is free until all of us are free.x2
Googlers Against Racism