April 25, 2019

#WALKAWAY: I Used to Work for Google. I Am a Conscientious Objector.

Jack Poulson:

“We can forgive your politics and focus on your technical contributions as long as you don’t do something unforgivable, like speaking to the press.”

This was the parting advice given to me during my exit interview from Google after spending a month internally arguing, resignation letter in hand, for the company to clarify its ethical red lines around Project Dragonfly, the effort to modify Search to meet the censorship and surveillance demands of the Chinese Communist Party.

When a prototype circulated internally of a system that would ostensibly allow the Chinese government to surveil Chinese users’ queries by their phone numbers, Google executives argued that it was within existing norms. Governments, after all, make law enforcement demands of the company all the time. Where, they asked their employees, was the demonstrable harm?

But the time has passed when tech companies can simply build tools, write algorithms and amass data without regard to who uses the technology and for what purpose.

Complaints from a single rank-and-file engineer aren’t going to lead a company to act against its significant financial interests. But history shows that dissenters — aided by courts or the court of public opinion — can sometimes make a difference. Even if that difference is just alerting the public to what these companies are up to.

Read the whole thing.

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