Project Nimbus: The Cloud Computing Assignment Driving Tech Workers to War
Google and Amazon workers have taken to the streets to protest against Israel’s ‘Project Nimbus’
“Project Nimbus” a US$1.2 billion cloud computing project funded by the government of Israel is being opposed by Google and Amazon employees. Workers left for the day and took their spot outside of Google’s New York City office demanding Amazon and Google quit this cloud computing assignment.
In general, government tech contracts are usually awarded to a single company, but the scene is different with the cloud computing project ‘Nimbus’, which has Google and Amazon collaborating on a multi-year project. The two companies came together to make a potential partnership, according to a statement from Israel’s Finance Ministry earlier this year. Organizers at Google and Amazon have spent almost a year pushing back the contract, both internally and through calls to the public, over concerns that the Israeli military could weaponize the firms’ respective tools to be used to monitor or oppress Palestinians. “Project Nimbus, the cloud computing project is not Google’s first or last attempt to try and develop into a military contractor,” Google software engineer Gabrel Schubiner mentioned in the mid of the rally in New York “Please help us in keeping Google from becoming complicit in apartheid,” he added. Protestors in New York were just a chunk of the tech workers around the country putting their voice in opposition to Project Nimbus. Aligned demonstrations took place throughout the day at four locations- Google’s San Francisco, Seattle, Durham, and North Carolina offices.
Altogether, the movement exhibits some of the most organized internal dissents to a major tech contract since Google’s tiny time Project Maven AI deal with the U.S. Department of Defence. But unlike past efforts, workers taking to the streets on Thursday demonstrated a willingness to unify across multiple companies and states under one single banner. “This is a monumental moment,” one organizer stated at the rally’s onset. “Now this is the time to fight back, to make obvious that the technology we build is for good.” Google, for its part, strongly disagrees with the protestor’s characterization of the contract. In an email sent to Gizmodo, a Google spokesperson defended the company’s decision to be in partnership with the Israeli government and mentioned workers on the ground were mischaracterizing the technology. “As we have said many times, the contract is for workloads steaming on our commercial platform by Israeli government ministries such as finance, healthcare, transportation, and education,” the spokesperson stated. “Today’s protest group is misrepresenting the contract—our work is not directed at highly sensitive or classified military workloads relevant to weapons or intelligence services.”
What is Project Nimbus?
Though there are very limited details about how Israel maps out to implement Project Nimbus, a July report from The Intercept cited internal training documents and videos which specify that a part of the effort will supply the Israeli government with a “full suite of machine learning and AI tools” from the Google cloud computing platform. The documents declare that it could provide the government access to facial recognition, object tracking, automated image categorization, and so-called emotion recognition, among different tools.
The previous year, multiple human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, stepped out and described the Israeli military’s plan of action in occupied territory as “crimes against humanity.” Then in October, hundreds of Google and Amazon workers signed an open letter published in The Guardian demanding their firms “cut all ties with the Israeli military.” “We feel that the technology we build should work to serve good and uplift people everywhere, including all of our users,” the workers wrote. “As technical who keep these companies running, we are morally obligated to speak out against violations of these principal values.”
Is this the Project Maven 2.0?
The collective of Google and Amazon technical are assuming their day of action can reignite some of the fire observed in 2018 when a first-of-its-kind tech worker movement enforced Google to cancel Project Maven, an AI program aimed to aid The U.S. Department of Defence’s drone capabilities. Three months later, based on reporting on the project from Gizmodo and other outlets, and expending internal dissent, a large number of Google employees resigned from their positions in protest. Not long after that, Google backed down and provided a statement that it would not seek a new contract once Project Maven expired.