Google employee says she was forced to quit

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference for the launch of

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference for the launch of ‘Campus TLV’ a technology hub for Israeli start-ups, entrepreneurs and developers at Google’s new offices on December 10, 2012.
Photo: Jack Guez (Getty Images)

A Google employee who spent nearly a decade with the company claims she was forced to resign for criticizing the company’s $1.2 billion secret cloud project with the Israeli government.

The worker, Marketing Manager Ariel Koren, spoke to Gizmodo and wrote about her decision to leave the company in a open letter Tuesday. Koren, who identifies as Jewish, says she had ‘no choice but to leave the company’ this week after she allegedly faced retaliation and ‘illegal actions’ from Google.

Koren is a leading activist voice within the company who has helped lead several petitions asking Google to drop the contract, says Project Nimbus. One of these petitions received signatures from more than 800 Google employees and 37,500 members of the public. Although specific details about Project Nimbus remain scarce, the joint Google and Amazon project would provide artificial intelligence and cloud tools to the Israeli government and military, which Koren and other employees of the company claim to represent a violation of Google’s own AI principles. Koren asserts that the tools provided by Nimbus “have the potential to expand Israel’s pattern of surveillance, racial profiling and other forms of technology-assisted human rights violations”.

“Instead of listening to employees who want Google to uphold its ethical principles, Google is aggressively pursuing military contracts and stripping its employees’ voices through a pattern of silence and retaliation against me and many others,” Koren wrote. .

Koren detailed Google’s alleged retaliation in a phone interview with Gizmodo. She told us that she returned from disability leave late last year and was faced with an insoluble choice: to move from San Francisco to Google’s office in São Paulo, in Brazil, within 17 days or lose his job. Koren claims there was no obvious reason for the abrupt and sudden change of location. Instead, Googler thinks the ultimatum amounted to a “creative” way for Google to force her out without having to fire her.

“There was a time when Google just fired people for retaliating and I think the fact that there are so many reviews means that Google has tried to get a little more creative and retaliating takes different forms from the dismissal,” Koren said. said.

Google refuted Koren’s claims and said it prohibits workplace retaliation in a statement sent to Gizmodo.

“We have thoroughly investigated this employee’s complaint, as we do when concerns are raised, and as we have stated for many months, our investigation revealed that there was no retaliation here,” a Google spokesperson said.

The spokesperson then provided empathetic support to the Project Nimbus contact.

“We are proud that Google Cloud has been selected by the Israeli government to provide public cloud services to help digitally transform the country,” the spokesperson added. “The project includes making Google Cloud Platform available to government agencies for day-to-day workloads such as finance, healthcare, transportation, and education, but it does not address highly sensitive workloads or classified.”

750 Google employees reportedly signed a petition earlier this year to protest the alleged retaliation, and Koren deposit an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. The NYT Remarks a Google and National Labor Relations Board investigation of the complaint found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Google has come under scrutiny in recent years for firing employees who criticized the company. In 2020, more than 1,500 Google employees signed a petition condemning the company for firing AI ethicist Timnit Gebru after raising concerns about the company’s diversity protocols.

The Alphabet Workers Union, a union representing workers at Google and other Alphabet companies, defended Koren in a statement sent to Gizmodo.

“All Alphabet workers have the right to voice their concerns and objections to projects like Nimbus and to organize against them internally, without fear of reprisal,” said Parul Koul, executive president of the workers’ union. of Alphabet, in a press release. “Thousands of Google employees have already organized against military contracts, like Project Maven, and we deserve to do the same now and in the future. Ariel should never have experienced this retaliation and harassment. She should never have been forced into a position where quitting was her only option.

Koren’s critique goes beyond Project Nimbus, however, and fundamentally extends to Google’s corporate culture. According to her, Google “systematically silences” Palestinian, Jewish, Arab and Muslim workers who try to criticize Google’s ties to the Israeli government. Koren described an environment where Google employees who speak critically are often ignored. At the same time, Koren said the company is “extremely receptive” to workers expressing pro-Israel views.

Those concerns were echoed on Tuesday by fifteen other Google employees, including several who identify as Palestinians, who provided statements detailing perceived anti-Palestinian bias within the company.

“Working at Google was always my dream job until I learned about Project Nimbus,” wrote one Google employee. “I feel like I’m making a living from the oppression of my family back home.”

Other workers expressed concern that Palestinian voices in the company were not being properly heard.

“As a Palestinian, my sense of marginalization only grew when I started seeing my colleagues issue warnings just to have empathy for Palestinians,” said another Google employee.

If this all sounds a little familiar, that’s because Google has been here before, albeit in another country. In 2018, a dozen Google employees resigned in protest of the company’s Project Maven military contract, a controversial program in which Google provided artificial intelligence services to the US Department of Defense for the analysis of drone imagery. Those resignations, along with a wave of activism across the company, ultimately led Google to to abandon Maven project. Reports released last year suggest that Google has taken a renewed interest in a new Pentagon cloud computing project.

Speaking to Gizmodo, Koren described Google’s recent response to worker criticism of Nimbus as an “extension” of its actions in the wake of the Project Maven fallout. According to Koren, Google’s internal communications changed after Maven, moving from relatively open communication to one hidden in secrecy. Other Google employees speaking with Gizmodo have shared similar statements in the past.

“Nimbus is a continuation of this model,” Koren said. “When Google launched Nimbus, they weren’t open with their workforce at all. They were extremely secretive.

Update 5:55 p.m.: Added statement from Googlee.

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