Google engineers refused to build a security tool to win military contracts
Earlier this year, a group of influential software engineers in Google’s cloud division surprised their superiors by refusing to work on a cutting-edge security feature. Known as “air gap,” the technology would have helped Google win sensitive military contracts. The coders weren’t persuaded their employer should be using its technological might to help the government wage war, according to four current and former employees. After hearing the engineers’ objections, Urs Hlzle, Google’s top technical executive, said the air gap feature would be postponed, one of the people said. Another person familiar with the situation said the group was able to reduce the scope of the feature.
The act of rebellion ricocheted around the company, fueling a growing resistance among employees with a dim view of Google’s yen for multi-million-dollar government contracts. The engineers became known as the “Group of Nine” and were lionized by like-minded staff. The current and former employees say the engineers’ work boycott was a catalyst for larger protests that convulsed the company’s Mountain View, California, campus and ultimately forced executives to let a lucrative Pentagon contract called Project Maven expire without renewal. They declined to name the engineers and requested anonymity to discuss a private matter.
Internal disputes are common at Alphabet Inc.’s Google, which gives employees ample space to air grievances. But dissent is on the rise (as it is at other tech companies).