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Employees call on Google to drop ties to police forces

Google is facing mounting pressure to sever its ties to law enforcement agencies as the Black Lives Matter movement continues to gather pace within the tech sector.

More than 1,600 members of staff have signed a petition calling on the company to stop selling services such as its Gmail email client to police forces, which are facing unprecedented scrutiny in light of the death of George Floyd in Minnesota last month.

In recent weeks IBM, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft have pledged to either temporarily or permanently stop providing police forces with facial recognition software. Google had said in December 2018 that it wouldn’t sell the technology.

In the petition, which was first reported by Reuters, the workers criticised Google for not joining the “millions who want to defang and defund” police forces during the Black Lives Matter movement. They added: “We should not be in the business of profiting from racist policing.”

Google employees have scored a series of concessions from their employer in recent years, including the company’s decision not to renew a controversial contract supplying machine learning technology for the analysis of drone footage by the US military. The company also opted not to bid for the Pentagon’s massive JEDI cloud computing contract, citing ethical concerns.

But it appears the company’s employees may be less successful this time around. In a statement shared with NS Tech, a Google spokesperson denied that the company would give into their demands, saying: “We’re committed to work that makes a meaningful difference to combat systemic racism, and our employees have made over 500 product suggestions in recent weeks, which we are reviewing.

“On this one, we were the first major company to decide, years ago, to not make general purpose facial recognition commercially available and we have very clear AI Principles that prohibit its use or sale for surveillance.

“We have long standing terms of use for generally available computing platforms like Gmail, G Suite and Google Cloud Platform, and these products will remain available for governments and local authorities, including police departments, to use.”

Amazon’s facial recognition stunt is pure PR