FEATURED IMAGE | Source: David B. Gleason, The Pentagon, CC BY-SA 2.0
In recent years, tech companies have built artificial intelligence and cloud computing systems that the government finds attractive, particularly the intelligence and defense sectors. But as companies take on contracts to supply state and federal agencies with new technologies, they’re facing increasing opposition from their employees.
Earlier this year, thousands of Google employees signed a letter protesting the company’s involvement in Project Maven, a Pentagon program that uses artificial intelligence to analyze drone footage and improve the accuracy of strikes. In the open letter, employees took the following stance: “Google should not be in the business of war.”
Since the protest, Google has decided not to renew its contract for Project Maven and has even created a set of principles to guide its AI applications. While the new guidelines do not rule out defense work, it does prohibit involvement in any project that would cause injury to people or violate human rights.
More recently, Amazon employees (and even some investors) have been protesting the company’s sale of facial recognition technology to law enforcement agencies. Microsoft employees have also petitioned against their company’s contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency responsible for executing the controversial order to separate children from their migrant parents.
Blind recently conducted a survey to find out what our users think of Microsoft’s contract with ICE. What we learned is that a majority of our users (and Microsoft employees) have no issue with the tech giant’s collaboration with the federal agency. This week we reveal what our users think about tech companies and government contracts in general.
From June 28 through July 8, we asked our users the following question:
Should tech companies working with U.S. government agencies take a political stand if the collaboration starts to conflict with company values?
A) Yes, and companies should refuse to work with the agencies
B) Yes, but companies should try to negotiate with the agencies
C) No, companies should take a neutral stance
A total of 7,631 users responded and the results show that the majority of our total survey participants – 59 percent – answered either A or B. This tells us that most of our surveyed users want tech companies to take a political stand, while 41 percent want their company to remain neutral and drop company values altogether.
We also broke down the survey results by company. The chart below lists the 20 companies with the highest number of survey participants. Of these 20 companies, only two – Microsoft and Tableau – had at least 50 percent of employees respond that the company should take a neutral stance.
When combining the totals for answers A and B, we can see more clearly just how many people desire for companies to be guided by their values. The contrast between Microsoft and Tableau versus the other tech companies also becomes more apparent.
Google employees have said the following: “We demand a choice in what we build, and a say in how it is used.” According to this latest survey, not every tech worker shares the same sentiment but most do.