Can Google's Soul Be Saved?

(Image: Global Panorama/flickr/cc)

Can Google's Soul Be Saved?

Rank-and-file Silicon Valley tech workers are using their leverage to push companies toward more ethical business models, or at least away from destroying the environment and undermining human rights.

With its ubiquitous and astronomical digital infrastructure, Google has put the world at our fingertips. But in some ways, it's also making the world dirtier and less democratic.

Under the slick veneer of clean, youthful, innovation-loving Silicon Valley, big tech firms like Google have colossal carbon footprints, and some have shady ties to military and police operations seeking new systems of repression and surveillance. While tech giants like Facebook and Amazon have drawn sharp criticism from rights groups and lawmakers, some of the most incisive criticism of Silicon Valley has come from within its own ranks.

On November 4, Google Workers for Action on Climate, a grassroots group representing rank and file Googlers, published a list of environmental and political demands for their employer, signed by more than 1,640 Google employees and addressed to the company's chief financial officer, Ruth Porat. The workers are demanding that the company reduce its carbon emissions to zero--in line with the benchmarks proposed by international climate authorities like the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

"Under the slick veneer of clean, youthful, innovation-loving Silicon Valley, big tech firms like Google have colossal carbon footprints, and some have shady ties to military and police operations seeking new systems of repression and surveillance."

In addition, the workers are calling for "zero contracts to enable or accelerate the extraction of fossil fuels"--a response to reports that Google and other tech giants have collaborated with oil companies to develop tools to boost their extraction operations. And they are seeking a reduction in Google's carbon footprint and "zero funding for climate-denying or -delaying think tanks, lobbyists, and politicians." (Google has come under fire for revelations about its substantial financial contributions to rightwing lobbying groups that push climate denial.)

Finally, the workers demand "zero collaboration with entities enabling the incarceration, surveillance, displacement, or oppression of refugees or frontline communities." Google--which once boasted the slogan "Don't be evil"--has been widely condemned for its partnerships with various branches of government, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol.

The petition condemns the company for failing to adhere to its own AI principles, which "state that Google will not build technologies 'whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights.' By any interpretation, CBP and ICE are in grave violation of international human rights law." As the Trump Administration ruthlessly cracks down on undocumented immigrants and their communities, the workers note that Google has failed its own employees by failing to provide "a diverse, inclusive, and psychologically safe workplace for all its workers, including immigrants and Latinx people--the very populations whose communities, families, and friends are being terrorized by CBP and ICE."

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