Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud, explains to workers that they aren’t serving to with the digital border wall


Thomas Kurian, CEO of Alphabet's Google Cloud, speaks at the Google Cloud Next conference on April 9, 2019 in San Francisco.

Michael Short | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud, told staff on Friday that the US Customs and Border Protection had confirmed that their technology will not be used to enforce immigration regulations at the border, including a "virtual wall".

Kurian spoke to employees in an all-hands meeting on Friday for cloud group The Weather Report, answering a question from employees about a government contract recently reported by The Intercept. The report said Google's AI technology could be used in conjunction with technology from start-up Anduril, which is working on technology for a "virtual wall" on the US border with Mexico.

Kurian strongly denied this aspect of the report.

"As we have found in the past, we are not working on projects related to the enforcement of immigration regulations on the southern border," Kurian told employees on Friday. This is evident from a transcript of a participant's meeting. Google confirmed the accuracy of the transcript but declined further comments.

"While the statement of work contains a long list of programs that the agency may test, we have spoken directly to Customs and Border Protection and they have confirmed that they do not test our products for these purposes."

Google employees have commented on existing and potential government contracts – specifically, contracts by Trump-led immigration agencies and those with potential war applications. Last year, Google employees signed a petition calling on company executives to declare that they will not work with U.S. immigration and border control agencies, citing abuse of asylum seekers and refugees.

And in 2018, Google terminated a government contract called Project Maven, which helped the government analyze and interpret drone videos about artificial intelligence after several thousand employees signed a petition and dozen resigned. This also led to the fact that the company established so-called "AI principles" for both Google and its Google Cloud unit.

Employees expressed their latest concerns as part of the August cloud proposal to the US Customs and Border Protection that Google Cloud Platform could bring in its artificial intelligence technology such as machine learning and natural language processing. The "Statement of Work" document showed that the technology can be used in coordination with other agencies, including drone camera company Anduril, which has a project for a "virtual border wall".

In addition to Kurian's statements, a person close to the project said the company is not working with Anduril and never has any plans to do so.

Kurian told staff on Friday that the Border Patrol's potential testing could include dozens of congruent companies. This would likely apply to features like document scanning and that any "custom" work would have to be completed alongside the "AI principles".

"The tests they run could include systems that help with customer fraud, detect drug trafficking, and scan and translate travel documents," Kurian continued at the live-streaming meeting. "As with any project, use of our services complies with our Terms of Use and Acceptable Use Guidelines, and any custom work would have to go through our AI Policy Review."

Anduril was founded by Palmer Luckey, who also co-founded the virtual reality company Oculus, which Facebook acquired in 2014. Luckey says Facebook fired him in 2017 for what he once called CNBC "no reason at all," amid controversy over his policy posts and financial support for far-right groups and internet trolls.

Google's cloud business is a growing focus for Google and its parent company Alphabet. In his Q3 earnings report yesterday, Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet, said he will be reporting on Google Cloud's operating results from the next quarter.

"The segmentation gives you additional information about the size of our investment that we can use to measure the progress we are making on the multi-year journey towards creating sustainable value," said Pichai.


Steven Gregory