Back in January, Microsoft announced that they were "proud" to support ICE. Honestly, what company wouldn't be? A U.S. federal contract, no matter how large your coffers and corporate reach might be, is a good get, due both to the amount of American lucre you'll pocket and the visuals that come from being trusted by one of the most powerful countries in the world to meet their cloud computing needs.
But hey: it isn't January anymore and Microsoft in June, 2018 is looking a little bit like IBM back in the 1930s.
Under the Trump Administration's direction, ICE and other Homeland Security entities have been busy breaking up families, emotionally scarring thousands of innocent kids, and driving their anguished caretakers into cages, or worse, to suicide. That Microsoft's Azure cloud computing services are helping such villainy along, in any capacity, might be good in the short-term, for the company's bottom line, but the optics are shit. More than this, the company's association with ICE is raising the hackles of some of their their most important assets: not their shareholders or board, but their employees.
According to Gizmodo, a number of Microsoft employees, who prefer to remain anonymous in the interest of protecting their careers, have stepped forward to report that the computer technology company's relationship with ICE has led to growing dissent among the company's workforce. When Giz questioned Microsoft's PR team on the matter, the response was a bit wishy-washy:
Microsoft condemned family separation by ICE in a statement to Gizmodo but declined to specify if specific tools within Azure Government, like Face API—facial recognition software—were in use by the agency. The company also did not comment on whether it had assisted in building artificial intelligence tools for ICE, something the agency has been seeking (and courting Microsoft over) for some time.
I'm one to hazard on the side of whatever the most intensely terrible possibility is, these days: side-stepping whether ICE is rocking Face API? Microsoft is totally serving up Face API to assist ICE in identifying and tracking detainees of all ages within their system. Is there any proof that this is the case? Nope – and I really hope that I'm wrong. But with military contractors being used to wrangle throngs of kidnapped children, tent cities being erected in military bases and old Walmarts being turned into prisons for kids, I don't feel that making this sort of leap of faith is unwarranted.
For the time being, Microsoft has said that they are dismayed by what ICE has been up to and that they “urge the administration to change its policy and Congress to pass legislation ensuring children are no longer separated from their families.”
If wishes where horses.
It'll be interesting to see, as more of Microsoft's employees become aware of the company's involvement with ICE, whether or not we'll see the same sorts of protests and resignations as came from Google's errant push to provide the U.S. military with A.I.
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