The crackdown on tech workers opposed to Project Nimbus shows why the Google-Amazon contract with the Israeli government is a threat to everyone’s freedom of expression and further undermines Palestinian rights and freedoms, writes Mona Shtaya.
Project Nimbus, a $1.2 billion deal Google and Amazon have with the Israeli government and military, will provide them with artificial intelligence and cloud storage facilities, writes Mona Shtaya. [GETTY]
In 2004, The founders of Google claimed in the first letter to shareholders that their goal is to “develop services that significantly improve the lives of as many people as possible”. The reality, however, is a bit different. Google, among other big tech giants, ignored the principles they claimed to support, in order to increase profits and improve power relations with states.
Project Nimbus, a $1.2 billion deal Google and Amazon made with the Israeli government and military, is the most recent example. This agreement will provide Israeli authorities with artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud storage facilities.
Partnerships between tech giants and colonial regimes only lead to more repression, persecution and systematic discrimination. In the case of Israel, it uses the Palestinian territory as a test lab for its surveillance and espionage technologies which it then resells around the world.
“Restrictions are increasingly being imposed and some workers have even faced reprisals for expressing their solidarity, which has led many of them to refrain from disclosing their identity – a contradiction with the principles of freedom of speech, assembly and organization that tech companies also claim to embrace.’
As Palestinians we have lived under the panopticon imposed by Israel for many years. Technologies developed and tested with us include CCTV cameras with facial recognition, spyware, Blue Wolf and Wolfpack databases. The recent contract for advanced artificial intelligence tools between Google and the Israeli army will only strengthen the already existing surveillance state.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that giant corporations have invested in projects that serve the policies of systematic human rights violations practiced by the Israeli authorities against us. However, there are growing concerns about the censorship of Palestinian workers, as well as other workers in these companies who express their opposition to the oppression of Palestinians.
Restrictions are increasingly imposed and some workers have even faced reprisals for expressing their solidarity, which has led to numerous refrain from disclosing one’s identity – a contradiction to the principles of free speech, assembly and organization that tech companies also claim to embrace.
Indeed, support for Palestinian rights is being systematically silenced and delegitimized not just by the content moderation that many have called for over the years — especially after Israel’s military onslaught — but also among tech workers. .
The treatment of former Google employee Ariel Koren is an example of the response reserved for all those who defend the rights of Palestinians within these spaces. Koren was forced to resign after she objected and urged her bosses to reconsider the Project Nimbus contract. This raised serious questions about the company’s policies, especially towards colonized and oppressed peoples.
Moreover, for some time now, Google has been endangering the lives of Palestinians through its Google Maps app, by failing to list routes that are off-limits to them, such as those in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Palestinians are therefore vulnerable to attacks by settlers and/or the Israeli army.
To add insult to injury, the app includes settlements on the first layer of its maps without highlighting where they are. illegalor including correctly Palestinian villages. This only further legitimizes Israel’s violations and normalizes its actions on the ground.
It doesn’t stop there. The company also imposed excessive censorship of Palestinian content on YouTube. A report by 7amleh, the Palestinian digital rights organization, showed that videos posted from Palestine are subject to overly strict content moderation policies, which has sometimes even led to their removal. The results showed that there was even a case where the same political video was uploaded from both Palestine and a European country, but only the former was taken down.
Finally, the right to freedom of opinion and expression must be guaranteed to both users and employees of these platforms. Competing companies by launching new technologies aimed at short-term profit, ignoring their role in aggravating discrimination, human rights abuses and oppression, must be held accountable.
Collaborating and listening to the employees of these companies that actually develop the technologies is a crucial element in transforming the meaning of travel. They are, after all, witnesses to what happens in these spaces and their testimonies are the strongest when it comes to our advocacy efforts. Therefore, it is important that employees of these companies who have ethical principles towards their communities speak out.
This struggle from within is an extension of the broader struggle waged by movements for freedom, justice and dignity.
— MPower #NoTechForApartheid Change (@MPower_Change) September 8, 2022
The political and economic interests of corporate corporations, which intersect with the policies of governments around the world – especially oppressive policies – contribute to the broader curtailment of civil liberties. Therefore, just as the oppressors join forces to muzzle us, we too must show solidarity with those they target and stand shoulder to shoulder.
Palestinians are not alone in this struggle, many other marginalized communities have faced similar repression from these companies – a point Koren underscored in his resignation letter when she referenced Google’s discriminatory practices towards the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
Criticism of Israel’s apartheid regime and its systematic human rights violations should never be the reason anyone loses their job or is discriminated against. Companies that claim to “improve the lives of as many people as possible” should instead protect and support their workers.
Human rights defenders and ethical workers must continue to mobilize and pressure Google and other tech companies to end their complicity in silencing Palestinian voices and expressions of solidarity.
Mona Shtaya is a Palestinian digital rights defender working in the MENA region. She works as an advocacy advisor at 7amleh – The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, and a non-resident researcher for the Middle East Institute (MEI) in the Cyber Security and Emerging Technology program. Mona is completing a Masters in Social Media and Digital Communication at the University of Westminster. Mona previously worked as a community outreach specialist at Transparency Palestine, the national chapter of Transparency International.
Follow her on Twitter: @Monashtayya
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The views expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or its staff.