Google Employee Who Played Key Role In Protest Of Contract With Israel Quits

By | 01/09/2022

The worker said the company had tried to retaliate against her activism opposing a deal with the Israeli armed forces, while co-workers argued the company had an anti-Palestinian bias.

Ariel Koren, a marketing manager at Google, opposed Project Nimbus because she was concerned that the company’s technology could help the Israeli Defense Forces surveil and harm Palestinians.

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Geloy Concepcion for The New York Times


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A Google employee who became the most visible opponent of a visitor contract with the Israeli military said on Tuesday that she would resign later on claiming Google had tried to retaliate against her for her activism.

The employee, Ariel Koren, a marketing manager for Google’s educational products arm who has worked for the company for seven years, wrote a memo to colleagues announcing her program to go out Google at the stop of the week.

She spent more than a year organizing against Project Nimbus, a $1.2 billion agreement for Google and Amazon to supply Israel and its armed forces with artificial intelligence tools and other computing services. Ms. Koren, 28, helped circulate petitions and lobby executives, and she talked to news organizations, all in an effort to go Google to reconsider the bargain.

Then, in November, she said, came a surprising ultimatum from Google: Agree to move to São Paulo, Brazil, within 17 business days or lose your task.

Ms. Koren marketed educational products to Latin America and was based in Mexico City before moving to San Francisco during the pandemic. But, she said, there was not a articulate business concern justification for the mandated move or its urgency, and a supervisor in Brazil told her that employees in São Paulo were working from habitation because of the pandemic.

Google and the National Labor Relations Lath investigated her complaint and found no wrongdoing.

Fifteen other Google employees posted audio testimonies to YouTube on Tuesday asking the visitor not to piece of work with Israel and criticizing Google’south treatment of Palestinians and its censorship of employees who support them. All merely ii of the workers spoke anonymously. They released their remarks to coincide with Ms. Koren’s departure from the company.

“Google systematically silences Palestinian, Jewish, Arab and Muslim voices concerned about Google’s complicity in violations of Palestinian human being rights — to the betoken of formally retaliating confronting workers and creating an environment of fear,” Ms. Koren wrote in the letter explaining her decision to resign.

Shannon Newberry, a Google spokeswoman, said in a statement that “we prohibit retaliation in the workplace and
publicly share our very articulate policy.”

Nosotros thoroughly investigated this employee’s claim, as nosotros do when any concerns are raised,” she added.

Ms. Koren is the latest in a cord of Google employees who take accused the visitor of retaliation for their activism. Two, Claire Stapleton and Meredith Whittaker, resigned in 2019 and said they had faced retribution after organizing a worker walkout in 2018 to protest the company’s sexual misconduct policies.

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Laura Morton for The New York Times


In Nov 2019, Google fired four employees who had been involved in a variety of organizing efforts at the company. A fifth worker was fired presently after for creating a popular-upward message on Google’s corporate network notifying workers of their protected correct to organize. The National Labor Relations Board said Google had illegally fired two of the workers, and illegally surveilled and retaliated against others.

The company as well pushed out two artificial intelligence researchers, Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell. Both had been part of the company’s Ethical A.I. team and had criticized Google’s engineering science in a research paper. Ms. Gebru had separately said the company’s diversity efforts were insufficient.

When asked about the firings, Google reiterated previous statements that it had not retaliated confronting the workers, and information technology said that, in some instances, the dismissed employees had violated data security policies.

Google made news recently for a different type of firing — letting go of an engineer, Blake Lemoine, in July afterward he claimed the company’s A.I. was sentient and leaked corporate documents.

Google’southward growing reputation for punishing employees who are publicly critical of the company is a notable change for an employer that one time nourished an outspoken workplace culture. Google had long welcomed broad-ranging dialogue on its internal, online message boards and encouraged employees to fence executives’ decisions in companywide meetings and other forums.

“Google has fatigued enough of a line in the sand of either you lot’re with us and you’re on lath or you’re out,” Ms. Stapleton said in a recent interview.

The Los Angeles Times earlier reported Ms. Koren’due south claim.

Ms Koren, who is Jewish, opposed Nimbus after it was announced in Apr 2021 considering she was concerned that Google’south technology could assist the Israeli Defence force Forces surveil and harm Palestinians. The contract went into effect in July 2021 and lasts for seven years.

Neither the company nor State of israel has detailed the capabilities Israel will receive, or how they will exist used, but a Google slide deck for training Nimbus users included software that Google claims tin can recognize people, gauge emotional states from facial expressions and track objects in video footage. The Intercept earlier reported details of the slide deck. (A spokeswoman said the visitor did non sell “general purpose” facial-recognition technology.)

“Nosotros are proud that Google Cloud has been selected past the Israeli government to provide public cloud services to help digitally transform the country,” Ms. Newberry, the spokeswoman, said. “The project includes making Google Cloud Platform available to government agencies for everyday workloads such as finance, wellness care, transportation and pedagogy, but information technology is non directed to highly sensitive or classified workloads.”

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Clark Hodgin for The New York Times


Ms. Koren and Gabriel Schubiner, another Jewish employee who became a public opponent of Nimbus, were on a mailing listing for the Jewish employee resource group at Google, chosen Jewglers. They shared their concerns with the iii,000 employees on the list and, they said, found a hostile reception from some.

So, they created an offshoot group in 2020, Jewish Diaspora in Tech, which now has 500 members only is non recognized by Google. The group became a middle for anti-Nimbus organizing.

Ms. Koren said she went on disability leave for depression, anxiety and exhaustion in July 2021. During her go out, anti-Nimbus organizing intensified, with a public petition, another for Google employees and a campaign supported by ii outside, nonprofit groups.

2 weeks before her disability get out was set to end, Ms. Koren saturday for a televised interview with MSNBC to discuss the protests against Nimbus.

She returned to work in November, she said, and was told that she had three weeks to brand a decision about moving to Brazil.

She plant a lawyer and filed a complaint with Google’s human resources section, claiming retaliation. Google said information technology would investigate, which delayed the move. She also filed a retaliation complaint with the N.L.R.B., which dismissed the case for bereft evidence. Ms. Koren said Google had non allowed the board to speak with her manager, while the company said the planned motility had been purely a business decision.

In Feb, she went on another disability leave, and never returned to piece of work. During her leave, more than than 700 of her colleagues signed a petition maxim that Google had unjustly retaliated against Ms. Koren. Roughly 25,000 people signed a public version of the same petition.

In March, the twenty-four hours before The Los Angeles Times published an article nearly her retaliation claim, Ms. Koren said, she received an electronic mail from Google’s human resources department, saying that information technology was aware she had taken her concerns to a public forum and that she should instead meet with the department. Google told the paper that it had institute no bear witness of retaliation before it told Ms. Koren, she said.

She had a videoconference in April, she said, with a representative from human resources, who told her that the mandated move to Brazil had been improperly executed and had acquired impairment — without saying specifically how — simply that it had not amounted to retaliation.

“Even though Google has shown a clear pattern of aggressively pursuing armed forces contracts and retaliating against employees speaking out, in that location’southward no way you tin be emotionally prepared,” Ms. Koren said in an interview.

What some workers say is a crackdown on employee activism has connected to colour life inside the company, according to the remarks of the 15 Google employees, as well as interviews with seven workers. They contend that the company unfairly enforces its content moderation rules, creating a double standard: Spoken communication supporting the Israeli government is permitted, while speech communication supporting Palestinians is flagged and sometimes a punishable offense.

Vi Palestinians, who provided anonymized remarks read aloud by colleagues, said they did not feel safe to express their opinions at the company.

“Project Nimbus makes me experience similar I am making my living off my family unit’southward oppression,” 1 of the workers said.

Some of the employees recalled being punished or reprimanded for perceived antisemitism afterwards some colleagues had said it was antisemitic for them to proclaim, “Back up Palestine.” I person said a colleague had accused them of antisemitism for self-identifying as a “Palestinian-American.”

One employee who requested anonymity said in an interview that he had been forced to meet with human resources after co-workers repeatedly reported him for antisemitism over several months. He had included an expression in his corporate profile — “From the river to the bounding main, Palestine will be gratis” — and took information technology downward when asked to.

He had also discussed on internal forums findings about Israeli policies from the Un and Amnesty International; life in Gaza, which borders Israel and Arab republic of egypt and is home to two meg Palestinians; and his belief that State of israel is an apartheid state.

He said that he had been given a formal alarm and that his functioning evaluation had been reduced to “needs improvement.” Though he had never received that lower rating before, he lost a bonus of more $10,000, and could be fired for another law-breaking, he said. He was told not to post anything that could offend co-workers, and then he stopped discussing politics altogether.

The employees who recorded the YouTube videos and who spoke with The New York Times point to Ms. Koren’s feel as an indication that they cannot openly discuss their views and keep their jobs. Google did non direct accost their complaints in its argument.

Still, Ms. Koren said she was encouraged by the show of support.

“When Google and other folks retaliate confronting workers, it’due south about creating a culture of fear,” Ms. Koren said. “I call up the opposite is true in this case — more than workers took a stand.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/30/technology/google-employee-israel.html