Big Tech’s expanding control and complicity in military repression have been countered by diverse challenges and grassroots resistance. From the early phase of whistle-blowers’ exposés to current campaigns exposing Big Tech’s profiteering from war, there is a growing demand to end the weaponisation of technology.
In the US, for example, a grassroots-based No Tech for ICE campaign highlights the key role played by Palantir and AWS in providing the infrastructure for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) along with other law-enforcement agencies involved in the Trump administration’s brutal family-separation policy. Palantir gathered information on individuals, which enabled state agencies to track and build profiles of immigrants to be deported, while AWS provided servers to host Palantir’s tools.
Community organisers are fast recognising and responding to the digital mode of militarisation and repression, seen not only in the tech giants’ exports to repressive states but also in how digital censorship and silencing are used to crush the voices of resistance and amplify right-wing, regressive ideologies. This has also been highlighted by digital rights groups such as 7amleh, the Arab Center for Social Media Development, and Sada Social, which have shown how during the 2021 Gaza assault and in the ensuing popular struggle, Palestine-related content was censored by social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. There is a growing discourse of digital rights which brings together grassroots organisers and tech experts who are working to make the digital sphere open and democratic rather than serving as a tool for subjugation.
Joining these forces are various current (and former) tech company employees, striking against their products being used to violate the rights of marginalised people, and for military purposes. They highlighted the profound ethical implications of any involvement in the automation of warfare. In 2018, a year before it was due to expire, Google announced that it would not be renewing its contract with Project Maven. As stated earlier, Microsoft and AWS won the contract.
The campaign against Project Nimbus presents a crucial opportunity to bring together the struggles against Big Tech from various perspectives – Palestinians and solidarity activists, tech workers, digital rights, and labour and anti-militarisation activists.
Months after the contract was announced, 90 Google and 300 Amazon employees wrote an open letter condemning it and opposing their employers’ decision to ‘supply the Israeli military and government technology that is used to harm Palestinians’. Some of the protestors faced retaliation, such as Ariel Koren, who was given an ultimatum to relocate from the US to Brazil, despite large public petitions against this action. Koren left Google in August 2022, noting in her resignation statement that, ‘Google systematically silences Palestinian, Jewish, Arab and Muslim voices concerned about Google’s complicity in violations of Palestinian human rights – to the point of formally retaliating against workers and creating an environment of fear’. Others joined her in speaking out against the retaliatory action taken against those who supported this campaign.
Along with the deep complicity of AWS in Israel’s IT and cybersecurity industry, and its support for repression elsewhere as seen in the ICE example, its track record in the inhumane treatment of workers and union busting has been widely reported. The formation of the Amazon Labor Union on Staten Island was, therefore, a historic moment in the US labour movement. Taken together these employees’ actions are likely to be causing some concern among today’s Big Tech CEOs.
Beyond the support to military and surveillance agencies, in essence contributing to deepening militarisation of people’s daily lives, there is also the question of Big Tech’s control over our data. Aspects of our lives that leave traces in the virtual world – now all but inevitable – are woven into algorithms that profoundly influence our choices, political opinions and decisions. Digital rights movements call for the defence of our privacy and security and against the commercialisation of personal data, nowhere more evident than with Google. There is a growing challenge to the control of Big Tech over individual lives and choices codified into data. The alternatives to data colonialism have also prompted lively debates on open source, public ownership and so on.
At the sharp end of digital colonialism, Palestine is therefore a sign of what is to come – and hence the point where we must first resist. In the name of bridging the digital divide, Big Tech is becoming more deeply entrenched, extracting data and profiteering from it. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this as people around the world had to work and study from home, mostly without access to digital technology and equipment.
The growing interest of students and academics in questioning the control of Big Tech companies, such as Google, in the field of education, and its direct link with the oppression of Palestinians, prompted the global No Tech for Apartheid campaign to develop a toolkit for organising on university campuses.
The campaign against Project Nimbus stands at the intersection of Palestinian solidarity and anti-apartheid, labour rights, digital rights, decolonial and demilitarisation movements. In this evolving movement, it offers a clear look at the matrix of oppression of militarisation, neoliberal capital Israeli apartheid – all of which Big Tech bolsters and from which it draws massive profits. It builds on the understanding developed by campaigns against Big Tech in war, and brings together many struggling communities against a contract which has deep implications for everyone. Interlinked systems that oppress us demand that our forms of resistance also unite, to defy the forces that seek to isolate us. Solidarity exists only in action, and through its very existence as an intersectional force it undermines the violence inflicted by colonialism, patriarchy, racism and neoliberalism. Technology is not designed to be neutral, and as aspects of our lives move further into this sphere, and its operations and mechanisms remain far from democratic, with the force of global resistance its basic tools can yet be made democratic and accessible.