Monday, 15 October 2018 09:20

Employees urge Microsoft to drop bid for big DoD contract Featured

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Employees urge Microsoft to drop bid for big DoD contract Pixabay

A number of Microsoft employees have urged their employer not to put in a bid for a massive cloud contract with the US Department of Defence, saying they had joined the software giant in the expectation that technologies they built would not cause harm or human suffering.

In a letter, the workers referred to a blog post by Microsoft Azure corporate vice-president Julia White a few days prior to their post, saying it was a public declaration of the company's intention to bid for the Joint Enterprise Defence Infrastructure contract, which is worth US$10 billion over a decade.

Their appeal comes a few days after Google announced that it would not be bidding for the contract, because it was something that did not sit well with the company.

As iTWire has reported, the DoD contract, known by its acronym JEDI, is meant to unite all Defence services under one cloud vendor, as the CIA did in 2013 with Amazon at a cost of US$600 million.

Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Oracle Corporation had been in the running for the contract which was expected to be awarded by the end of September and now seems to have been delayed.

Microsoft cut a deal to supply cloud services to 17 intelligence agencies in May and its chances of winning the JEDI deal were said to have improved because of this.

The Microsoft employees pointed out that at an industry day for JEDI, the DoD chief management officer John Gibson had said, "We need to be very clear. This program is truly about increasing the lethality of our department.”

"Many Microsoft employees don’t believe that what we build should be used for waging war," the employees said. "When we decided to work at Microsoft, we were doing so in the hopes of 'empowering every person on the planet to achieve more', not with the intent of ending lives and enhancing lethality.

"For those who say that another company will simply pick up JEDI where Microsoft leaves it, we would ask workers at that company to do the same. A race to the bottom is not an ethical position. Like those who took action at Google, Salesforce, and Amazon, we ask all employees of tech companies to ask how your work will be used, where it will be applied, and act according to your principles."

In June, Microsoft employees protested against the company's deal with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the wake of the agency's separation of migrant children from their parents at the Mexico-US border.

The same month, Amazon employees wrote to their boss, Jeff Bezos, telling him not to sell the company's Rekognition facial recognition software to law enforcement agencies and to cancel a contract for hosting data-mining company Palantir on its cloud.

In May, a dozen Google employees quit the company to protest against its involvement in a Pentagon initiative named Project Maven where Google's AI technology was being used to improve targeting by drones.

Google later said that it would not renew the Maven contract, but gave no assurance that it would keep out of future similar projects.

The Microsoft employees urged the company not to enter into contracts in violation of their own published guidance on AI.

"Earlier this year Microsoft published 'The Future Computed', examining the applications and potential dangers of AI. It argues that strong ethical principles are necessary for the development of AI that will benefit people, and defines six core principles: fair, reliable and safe, private and secure, inclusive, transparent, and accountable," they said.

"With JEDI, Microsoft executives are on track to betray these principles in exchange for short-term profits."

They pointed out that despite the protests about the contract with ICE, Microsoft was continuing to provide services to the Immigration authorities. "Microsoft’s decision to pursue JEDI reiterates the need for clear ethical guidelines, accountability, transparency, and oversight," they added.

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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