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Business News/ News / World/  Google fires 20 more over protests, says report. What is Project Nimbus & why are Googlers protesting?
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Google fires 20 more over protests, says report. What is Project Nimbus & why are Googlers protesting?

Jane Chung, spokesperson for protest organiser No Tech for Apartheid said that those recently fired included ‘non-participating bystanders’, and that this takes the total number of fired employees to over 50.

'This is a business and not a place to .. fight over disruptive issues or debate politics,' Google CEO tells employees after Project Nimbus protests (AP)Premium
'This is a business and not a place to .. fight over disruptive issues or debate politics,' Google CEO tells employees after Project Nimbus protests (AP)

Google has reportedly terminated 20 more employees following an internal protest regarding the company’s contract with Israel's defence sector, protest organisers told The Verge.

Jane Chung, spokesperson for No Tech for Apartheid, which organised Googlers' sit-in, in an email said those fired included individuals who did not actively participate in the protest or "non-participating bystanders".

Chung added that the recent dismissals bring the total number of fired employees to more than 50.

Google has yet to respond to queries, the report added. Livemint could not independently confirm the development.

Also Read | Google Consolidates Teams With Aim to Create AI Products Faster

28 Googlers Fired Last Week

The tech giant dismissed 28 employees on April 17 for demonstrating against Project Nimbus, a $1.2 billion defence contract between Google and Israel. The "sit-in" protests at Google's offices in New York and Sunnyvale (California) lasted eight hours on April 16 and resulted in the arrest of nine employees.

Google said the employees were terminated for "completely unacceptable behaviour", creating a threatening atmosphere and hindering other workers from doing their jobs.

It also said that investigations are still on, indicating more firings, as per AP.

No Tech For Apartheid has in a blog post stated that the protests were "peaceful" and received overwhelming support from other employees who were not participating.

“This flagrant act of retaliation is a clear indication that Google values its $1.2 billion contract with the genocidal Israeli government and military more than its own workers," No Tech For Apartheid said.

Also Read | Iran's Khamenei thanks armed forces for attacking Israel as two nations tamp down broader conflict fears | 10 points

Office No Place for Politics, Says Sundar Pichai

Google CEO Sundar Pichai in a blog post on April 18 said the company is powering ahead with its AI initiatives, calling this a pivotal moment in the industry.

“This is a business and not a place to act in a way that disrupts coworkers or makes them feel unsafe, to attempt to use the company as a personal platform, or to fight over disruptive issues or debate politics. This is too important a moment as a company for us to be distracted," Pichai wrote.

Also Read | What is the Netzah Yehuda battalion? 5 things about Israel's military unit facing possible US sanctions

Project Nimbus: Why Are Googlers Up in Arms?

Project Nimbus, signed in 2021, has become a "hot-button issue" due to its alleged use by the Israeli government in the Gaza offensive, AP reported. As per the contract, Google and Amazon provide Israel with cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI) services.

There have been multiple reports of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) using AI to attack and fire at targets in Gaza. Concerns have thus emerged that Google's tech is enabling this system.

However, Google has said that its technology is not being deployed for weapons or intelligence gathering.

Many other workers told Bloomberg that internal debate on the Israel-Gaza issue is being stifled. A Google employee said that after the protests, posts on internal Google forums featured a mix of pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli sentiment, with many other workers saying they felt the topic was inappropriate for the workplace. Moderators locked down some threads on the subject, saying prior discussions had gotten too heated, the employee added.

Despite Google’s response, employees demonstrating against Project Nimbus have seen an uptick in support since the sit-in, one of the fired workers told Bloomberg.

Not The First Protest

In 2018, Googlers protested and forced the company to drop Project Maven — a US defence department contract that would help the military analyse videos.

There was also a walkout in the same year over the company's handling of sexual assault allegations, where workers say they were punished, as per a Bloomberg report. Further, four other employees who opposed Google's work with federal Customs and Border Protection also faced consequences.

Notably, US labour law gives employees the right to engage in collective action related to working conditions.

“Tech workers are not like other kinds of workers. You can make an argument in this case that having some sort of say or control or ability to protest about how their work product is being used is actually a sort of key issue," John Logan, a professor of labour at San Francisco State University told Bloomberg.

He added that while tech companies have a reputation for being “more egalitarian and very cosmopolitan" they “actually responded in a sort of quite draconian way to labour activism".

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Published: 23 Apr 2024, 10:28 AM IST
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