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New Amazon and Google contracts with Israel betray company values, and workers like us

While we cannot be responsible for the actions of all of our clients, we also cannot shed responsibility for the impact they have on people around the world.
Image: An Israeli border police officer watches from a tower at a checkpoint near the West Bank town of Nablus, on Oct. 30, 2015.
An Israeli border police officer watches from a tower at a checkpoint near the West Bank town of Nablus on Oct. 30, 2015.Ariel Schalit / AP file

Early in our careers, we were thrilled to contribute to technology that could create new ways of engaging with one another, our devices and information around the world. Today, we work at two of the largest technology corporations, Google and Amazon. We joined these companies because we saw the huge impact that they have on people's lives globally, and because we believed that developing technology at such a scale could promote good and bring people together.

We’re calling on Amazon and Google to end their new contracts with the Israeli government and military.

But we are not naive about the harm that technology enables. As workers, we are responsible for the products we create. Because we believe that every person deserves to live with freedom and dignity, we’re calling on Amazon and Google to end their new contracts with the Israeli government and military, which violently oppresses millions of Palestinians.

We’ve joined together as workers across corporate lines for the first time to send a joint letter Tuesday calling on Google and Amazon to respect Palestinian human rights and cancel Project Nimbus, the $1.2 billion venture that will provide cloud services to the Israeli government, specifically including the military. The services encompass both storage and computational resources, as well as features that enable users to easily train powerful artificial intelligence.

Under these contracts, our cloud services would help facilitate the Israeli military’s control and persecution of Palestinians, demolition of Palestinian homes in the occupied Palestinian territories and attacks on Gaza that have hit civilian targets such as hospitals. In addition to the military, Project Nimbus will also provide our cloud services to the Israel Land Authority, an agency that enables Israel's continued expansion of segregated settlements in violation of international law and U.S. policy.

This historic campaign follows the separate efforts of our fellow employees who urged our respective employers to support Palestinian rights and end their ties with the Israeli military during the surge in violence in May, which killed at least 230 Palestinians in beseiged Gaza, including 65 children. According to our records, nearly 1,000 anonymous signatories at Amazon and more than 600 at Google have joined this call.

Project Nimbus isn’t the first time that Amazon and Google have collaborated with violent and harmful institutions. In response to a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which systematically surveils and cages undocumented migrants, Amazon workers launched “We Won’t Build It,” which called on Amazon to end its investments in facial recognition technology that enables abuses of marginalized people. When Google signed Project Maven, a contract to improve drone technology for the U.S. military, Google workers pressured the corporation to pull out of the contract and institute a policy committing to ethical use of artificial intelligence.

The Project Nimbus contracts were designed to leave our companies with little control over how our technology will be used. The contracts assure continuity of service even in the case either company wants to drop out due to employee protest, and specifies that the companies cannot refuse service to any branch of the Israeli government, including the military. Despite the huge impact and harms these contracts could have, their details aren’t available publicly or to workers, so, concerningly, they limit scrutiny by human rights organizations and input from employees.

Moreover, Project Nimbus stands in direct opposition to Google’s stated commitment to ethical AI and Amazon's leadership principles. Google claims to value accountability and safety, and says that companies "can make money without doing evil." Amazon says we must "make better, do better, and be better" for the world at large. We agree. We want to work for companies that do more than pay lip service to ethical business practices.

Instead, our companies signed contracts that they knew would be highly controversial, yet relinquishes their ability to enforce their own publicly stated principles while attempting to deny workers our say in how our labor is used. Because of how interconnected technology is, employees who aren’t involved in building cloud services will still see their work contribute to these oppressive actions unknowingly. We see this as a betrayal of their workforces, their values and their users.

Large tech corporations have responded to human rights concerns before, and they can do it again. In 2019, Google terminated Project Dragonfly, a censored search engine in China, and pulled out of the Pentagon’s Project Maven in 2018. The same principles should apply to the Project Nimbus contracts and all future contracts based on their real-world consequences. Since we have no ability to guarantee that the technology we build won’t be used to commit human rights abuses against Palestinians, cutting the contracts entirely is the only ethical option left for our companies.

More and more tech workers are growing concerned about how technology can harm communities. While we cannot be responsible for the actions of all of our clients, we also cannot shed responsibility for the impact on people around the world when we sell services to organizations that hold the power of life and death over our own users.

Our work has real-life consequences — both good and bad. When we join together, we can demand that the technology providers who so strongly influence our lives hold to principles of transparency, accountability and ethical responsibility. Our companies have the choice to fully commit to using technology where it has a positive impact; by doing so, we can build a world that better aligns with the basic values of freedom and dignity central to creating a more just and equitable world for us all.