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Google somewhat two-faced on workplace politics

Tech giant firing staff for political protest is among the biggest lobbyists of government and not averse to very ‘political’ business

There are workplace politics, and then, there are Workplace Politics. Just ask Google.

First, there are the irritating workplace politics for which you fire your employees. In April, Google chose to terminate the employment of more than 50 workers who criticised the company’s cloud computing contract with the Israeli government. They’d participated in workplace-based protests on April 16th, which included sit-ins in Google offices in Silicon Valley and New York.

The 2021 contract, called Project Nimbus, is a joint Google and Amazon project that provides $1.2 billion (€1.1 billion) in cloud services to the Israeli government.

It’s been controversial ever since it was agreed. Although Google has reiterated claims that the contract provides cloud services only to the government and has nothing to do with supporting military actions or surveillance, many workers and human rights watchdog organisations suspect the distinctions aren’t that clear, not least because of past evidence of hidden Israeli government and military connections.


Israel remains one of the world’s leading creators of companies that supply advanced surveillance technologies, including the widely condemned and misused Pegasus software that infects smartphones and which has been documented in use against world leaders, European parliamentarians, journalists and human rights activists. The New York Times has reported in the past year on the extensive use of sophisticated facial recognition technologies against Palestinians.

In 2021, some workers from Google and Amazon quickly formed an alliance called No Tech For Apartheid to oppose the contract, which the group argued would allow “for further surveillance of and unlawful data collection on Palestinians, and facilitates expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements on Palestinian land”. The group was behind the Google protests that resulted in the firings.

Google says they were disruptive; participants say they were not, and that Google had even fired employees who had only stopped to talk to the protesters.

There’s really no way of knowing how that cloud contract is being used, barring a deep investigation and whistleblower revelations. But both Google and Amazon have past associations with questionable surveillance and policing activities.

Amazon provides services to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, facilitating surveillance and deportations, and also provides video from its Ring doorbell cameras to police services. Google likewise has been connected to controversial contracts, providing technology for drone strikes, and working with the Pentagon. Google alongside Facebook also was condemned by Amnesty International in 2019 for “pervasive”, “omnipresent surveillance” of global populations that “poses an unprecedented danger to human rights”.

That’s the other, surveillance capitalism category of Workplace Politics, the one that is practised daily by huge technology corporations such as Google, in which decisions are taken to engage with governments and surveillance and policing agencies, approve contracts, and provide technologies and services that are, in the largest full-cap sense, sweepingly Political.

But it’s even more toweringly omnipresent than that, as the 2019 Amnesty report notes, because the impacts of these companies’ day-to-day operations are based on constant surveillance and data gathering from all of us, the citizens represented by the body politic.

The companies will argue that this isn’t politics, much less Politics. It’s just business as usual. But if this isn’t politics/Politics, then why are these companies among the biggest bankrollers of lobbyists targeting every level of government in the US and the EU? Lobbyists, in case the companies have forgotten, meet politicians and the various arms of local, national and EU-level government. Politicians and governments do politics.

In 2023, 651 technology companies spent €113 million lobbying EU officials, up 16.5 per cent from the €97 million spent in 2021. Just 10 companies account for an extraordinary one-third of that total spend, including Google – the fourth biggest spender, at €5.5 million – and Amazon. In 2023, Google parent Alphabet was a top lobbyist in Washington, DC too, forking out $14.5 million.

Following the protests but before the firings, Google CEO Sundar Pichai was widely reported as having noted that the workplace wasn’t the place for politics. This wasn’t a direct response to the protests, but a vague set of observations at the end of a long blog post on “Building for our AI future” (yes, really).

Way down at the bottom, in a section entitled “Mission first” (yes, really), Pichai notes that Google has “a culture of vibrant, open discussion” and says, “ultimately we are a workplace and our policies and expectations are clear: 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”.

As if Google isn’t a corporate “platform”. As if its technologies are apolitical, non-disruptive, and “safe”. As if Google takes no political stance, does not itself surveil and has no role in furthering others’ political acts.

“This is too important a moment as a company for us to be distracted,” he adds. A moment backed by more than €20 million in US and EU political lobbying in the past year. Because there’s workplace politics. And then, there’s Workplace Politics.