Googler says she was forced out after opposing $1.2bn cloud contract with Israel

Fears of human-rights abuses overshadow Project Nimbus

Ariel Koren, a Jewish Googler, claims the internet giant pressured her into resigning in retaliation for her speaking out about Google and Amazon's $1.2 billion cloud contract with Israel's government and military.

The massive supply deal, dubbed Project Nimbus, will provide cloud and AI services to Israeli government organizations using local AWS datacenters. Some Google employees, including Koren, fear Nimbus will be used by Israeli officials to commit human rights abuses against Palestinians and others, through the use of facial recognition and other machine-learning surveillance and profiling tools. The staffers have also called on Google and Amazon to scrap the deal. 

According to Koren, a now-former product marketing manager at Google for Education, after voicing her opposition to the military contract, her bosses told her in November 2021 that her position was being relocated to São Paulo, and she could either move to Brazil from California or lose her job. This was odd, she noted, because Google staff in the Brazilian city were all still working from home, so why the need for her to be there?

More than 700 Google employees and 25,000 others have since signed a petition demanding Google rescind its relocation order. 

Google, in a statement to The Register, said its management didn't retaliate against Koren. The spokesperson did not, however, address specific questions about Koren's allegations. 

"We prohibit retaliation in the workplace and publicly share [PDF] our very clear policy," the Google spokesperson said. "We thoroughly investigated this employee's claim, as we do when any concerns are raised, and as we've stated for many months, our investigation found there was no retaliation here."

"A government agency also dismissed this case when the employee filed a claim alleging she experienced retaliation," the spokesperson said, referring to America's National Labor Relations Board.

The spokesperson also defended Project Nimbus:

We are proud that Google Cloud has been selected by the Israeli government to provide public cloud services to help digitally transform the country. The project includes making Google Cloud Platform available to government agencies for everyday workloads such as finance, healthcare, transportation, and education, but it is not directed to highly sensitive or classified workloads.

In an August 30 letter to her fellow workers, Koren said she would leave the company.

"Due to retaliation, a hostile environment, and illegal actions by the company, I cannot continue to work at Google and have no choice but to leave the company at the end of this week," she wrote.

"Google is aggressively pursuing military contracts and stripping away the voices of its employees through a pattern of silencing [PDF] and retaliation towards me and many others."

Also today, a several Google workers released a video opposing Nimbus that includes Palestinian Googlers speaking anonymously about racism and bias they say they have experienced at the web goliath.

"Google is ignoring the widespread internal and public dissent against the company's complicity in Israel's apartheid violence via Project Nimbus, and has forced Palestinians at the company to feel unsafe bringing their identity to work and speaking out," Koren said in a statement, adding that the US corporation also has a "culture of silencing anti-Zionist Jews."

We're told there's an internal group of Jewish Googlers, who call themselves Jewglers, that is intended to represent all Jewish workers at the cloud behemoth. Koren, however, says she and other pro-Palestinian Jews, in addition to Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab Google employees, "have been censored and silenced by Jewglers."

This isn't the first time Google employees have said they are uncomfortable with the company's military and government contracts, arguing that it clashes with its original "don't be evil" motto. Google parent Alphabet's current motto is: "Do the right thing."

And sometimes the company's leadership listens to these concerns: Google abandoned Project Dragonfly, its censored search engine for China, and declined to renew Project Maven, its military AI contract with the US Department of Defense.

"Thousands of Google workers have previously organized against military contracts, like Project Maven, and we deserve to do the same now and in the future," said Parul Koul, executive chair of the Alphabet Workers Union, in a statement today.

"Ariel should never have faced this retaliation and harassment. She should never have been forced into a position where resigning was her only option." ®

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