Certainly some techs prefer this Jedi to the Pentagon's JEDI contract.
By Eric Felten, RealClearInvestigations
January 19, 2021
When YouTube, owned by Google, suspended Donald Trump's ability to post videos last week, it joined Facebook and Twitter to block the president and many Trump supporters from their platforms. Conservatives and others have denounced the movements as censorship. But technology companies' decisions to deny services to those they don't approve – including the President of the United States – also raise concerns about national security.
Project Maven: Thousands of Google employees protested the large Pentagon initiative using Google algorithms to identify drone targets.
The Department of Defense uses software created, supplied, and maintained by many of the same high-tech companies that are now shutting down online speech. If the techs can pull the plug on the public communications that people have come to rely on, some observers fear, they could do the same to the Pentagon in response to a military move deemed unacceptable by the San Franciscans.
Something along those lines has already happened with Project Maven, a major Pentagon initiative that uses Google algorithms to identify drone targets. The software was in full swing when thousands of Google employees protested in 2018 that their company was becoming a defense contractor.
"We believe that Google should not be at war," began an open letter from Google employees to CEO Sundar Pichai. They demanded that the company establish a "clear policy" stating that it and its contractors never "build warfare technology."
Google is bowing to this pressure from its own staff and has abandoned high-profile military projects. The company has been conspicuously absent from the battle between companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Oracle to win the contract for the Pentagon's Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure or JEDI. JEDI is a 10-year deal to provide cloud computing to the Department of Defense and is worth billions of dollars.
Microsoft was pursuing the Pentagon's lucrative JEDI cloud contract – despite employee objections.
The Pentagon could only rely on established defense contractors who are not squeamish about the company in which they operate. But officials were keen to partner with Big Tech, where they expect to find the top talent that will gain and retain an edge for the US.
That talent turns out to be touchy. Alphabet, Google's parent company, now has a small union that is less interested in bringing in wages and benefits than in projecting ideological power. “We will use our reclaimed power to control what we are working on and how it is being used,” the union's mission statement says.
It's not just outside political pressure that has led Big Tech companies to remove the platform from Trump and his supporters; the pressure also comes from within. "We will ensure that Alphabet acts ethically and in the best interest of society, & # 39; & # 39;, the company's union declares, confident in its own ability to discern the best interests of society.
Google isn't the only conscientious objector. Microsoft followed the JEDI contract – despite objections from employees who published an open letter themselves. “Many Microsoft employees don't believe that what we build should be used to make war,” the letter protested. "When we decided to join Microsoft, we did it in the hope of 'empowering everyone on the planet to achieve more,' not with the intention of ending lives and increasing lethality." & # 39;
& # 39; Software as a service & # 39;
Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, is studying military technology procurement. He says tech workers are less likely to object to a sale to the Pentagon "as computers become more like a commoditized service." Developing generic software that can be used by anyone, including the military, is perhaps less objectionable to Big Tech workers than creating custom war-fighting code. For example, Clark says, “Microsoft has been selling Office 365 to DoD and has been selling Office to the military for decades. Cloud computing and AI will become similar generic services. "
But Clark notes there is a difference between how a product like Microsoft Office is traditionally sold and the new cloud computing model. In the past, the purchaser bought copies of the software, whether on discs or other media, and that software was installed on customers' computers. How the customers used the software was generally beyond the reach of technology companies.
Teresa Carlson: Amazon's "unshakable" support for police, military and intelligence clients faltered after the death of George Floyd.
The new model is "software as a service," says Gregory Sanders. He is a Fellow and Deputy Director of the Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In the new model, the product is not located on the customers 'computers, but on the technology companies' own servers – in the cloud. It is convenient and allows customers to use as much computing power as they need, comparable to electricity. But if software lives in the cloud, access to the software is regulated by those who manage the cloud. Big Tech has shown that it can take software away from unpopular customers – and that it can drastically change its judgment of who deserves its products and who doesn't.
Take Teresa Carlson, Amazon Web Services' top public sector sales associate, for example. She enraged the supporters when she called the & # 39; unshakeable & # 39; AWS support for police, military and intelligence customers. That was in the summer of 2018. Two years later, things were very different. George Floyd's death on May 25, 2020 sparked nationwide protests against police. In response to the riots, Amazon announced that it is "introducing a one-year moratorium on police use of Amazon's facial recognition technology." That technology, called Rekognition, was made available through the cloud.
There are reasonable debates about what technologies governments should have access to and how they should be used. But what if the military starts relying on technologies like the cloud only to discover that those technologies are being shut down or shut down in a crisis by companies responding to the ideological demands of their own employees? These "security of supply considerations" are risks "the Department of Defense is thinking a lot," says Sanders.
Internal ideological uprisings have thrown companies beyond the tech giants and become a common cause of labor-management conflict, even when management shares the awakened values of labor. In June, New York Times employees rebelled against the editorial page for publishing an opinion by Senator Tom Cotton. The Arkansas Republican had advocated calling in the military to help quell riots. Editor James Bennet was banned from the editorial board and his deputy also resigned six months later.
Clark of the Hudson Institute says if a technology giant were to revoke access to services it agreed to provide to the military, he would likely have to pay fines for breach of contract. Such fines may make little difference to Big Tech's bottom line. But the loss of cloud capabilities in the middle of a conflict can be disastrous for war fighters.
Sanders says the Pentagon could always invoke the Defense Production Act "if a company withdrew from a service in an unorderly manner in a crisis environment." As the Congressional Research Service puts it, the law "enables the president to require individuals (including corporations and corporations)" to prioritize and accept government contracts for materials and services. "
That could prevent tech companies from completely abandoning government in crisis, but it's not a guaranteed strategy for success. “The quality of the work you get when you coax a hypocritical supplier isn't necessarily the best, so DoD doesn't want to call in those authorities unnecessarily,” Sanders says.
Big Tech has shown a willingness to discontinue the service and shut out customers who are becoming unpopular with Silicon Valley. That should be a red flag for government agencies considering putting their capabilities in the cloud – do they want to be constrained by the morals of today's tech industry?
. (tagsToTranslate) Pentagon (t) Cancel culture