Sometimes You Have to Walk the Walk

This blog does not in anyway represent the views of Amalgam Insights. They are mine alone and I take responsibility for that. Just so there’s no confusion.

As an IT industry analyst, I am given a bully pulpit to speak on the issues of my industry. Typically, these are technology matters such as the cost and usefulness of technology or trends that will affect the industry in the future. However, as Winston Churchill said, Where there is great power there is great responsibility.” This places on obligation on us, who have an audience that listens, to speak out on the ethics and behaviors of members of our community. Big technology companies also have great power and, hence, great responsibility. They too have an obligation. Their responsibility is to use their power for the greater good. Or at least, as the famous Google slogan says, “Don’t be evil.”

This slogan, embraced at the beginning of Google’s existence, is now dripping with irony and hypocrisy. Recently, there was a walkout of 20,000 Google workers for its handling of the sexual harassment complaints against one of its executives, Andy Rubin. There were further allegations of retaliation against some of the workers who organized the walkout even though Google publicly praised their actions. If that doesn’t indicate something about Google’s attitude toward women, then the latest news says it louder. On June 13, 2019, Sundar Pinchai said in his blog that he was “pleased to announce” a $600M investment in a data center in Oklahoma. This investment lays bare the true heart of the company.

For those who don’t typically pay attention to what goes on in Oklahoma, they are well known for their hostility towards women’s reproductive rights. The state has tried to revoke the licenses of doctors who provide safe abortions, enacted a fetal heartbeat bill (for the record, fetal heartbeats are not a matter of science), and tried for a complete abortion ban in 2016. These are some of the more egregious attempts on the part of the state to limit a woman’s access to safe abortions. They are by no means the only ones.

Let’s be clear about one thing, none of this legislation is about women’s health. Many of the attempts to get around Roe v. Wade run counter to science, such as the fetal heartbeat bill, and contradict the standard of practice in the medical community. We should also be clear that this is not about religion either. If it were, then the state would have no interest in it or they would legislate male reproduction choices, such as vasectomies, just as strongly. It’s about extending the power of the state over the bodies of women. Specifically women.

So, given the dismal record of the state of Oklahoma toward woman, why would a company whose motto is “Don’t be evil” invest over a half a billion additional dollars there, for a total investment of $3B? There are a number of technical reasons for this investment, such as locating cloud data centers near customers. Money also matters too. In 2015, for example, Google received $13.5M in property tax exemptions for the data center in Pryor, OK for using wind power. Imagine the other incentives a state such as Oklahoma might offer for the expansion of a data center and the addition of 100 high paying jobs. Money clearly matters more than the ethics of supporting a state that is dead set on subjugating woman through their biology.

The IT industry has always marketed itself as an inclusive meritocracy that wants more women in its ranks. Companies sponsor programs to recruit more women, hold “girls can code” days, and show heartwarming videos of female empowerment at their conferences. However, when Google not only invests in a state hostile to women but brags about it in a blog from the CEO, it becomes clear that none of this is genuine. How can tech companies talk about equality (which is a lie anyway) and then invest in a state that strives to remove a woman’s autonomy over her own body? At best it’s hypocrisy but more likely it’s about the bottom line above all else.

So, it’s time for honesty. Google, like most giant companies, do not care about women, underserved populations, social justice, LGBTQ+ people, or anything other than the how much money they can make. There is no greater mission. Remember that, when an IT company plays the Hallmark quality video showing their employees teaching girls and young women to write code so as to uplift them into IT society. It’s all a gimmick. All of the diversity programs, women’s councils, and talk of meritocracy is nothing more than clever marketing to improve their image. When the real choices need to be made, money will be the deciding factor. Don’t get sucked into believing that Google is better just because they say they are. Everything is about maximizing shareholder value and executive bonuses. That’s just bizspeak for “make as much money as possible, for the wealthiest people imaginable, no matter how you do it.”

IT companies have become the new robber barons. There’s a lot of good but the costs are high. One of the costs is enabling those who want to subjugate women, who want to create the Gilead from The Handmaiden’s Tale in real life. Don’t be evil indeed.

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