Issue 37: Microsoft workers challenge "lethal" Hololens

22 Feb 2019

Microsoft workers have demanded that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Chief Legal Officer, Brad Smith, terminate the $480 million Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) contract with the US Army, which they describe as a way to “increase lethality by enhancing the ability to detect, decide and engage”. Their demand letter, which includes dozens of employee signatures and counting, argues Microsoft has “crossed the line into weapons development,” and that “intent to harm is not an acceptable use of our technology.”

Unlike Microsoft’s tech executives who reap the personal financial benefits from selling weapons tech, workers in the company are taking a stand in advance of the Mobile Word Congress. 

“By sharing this letter right before a major product event, with a very specific illustration of how HoloLens tech is being sold for military purposes, employees are showing they’re willing to undermine the celebratory moments for the company. It’s a strategy that’s riskier for them, but potentially more painful for their bosses, too.,” Slate comments. “Pointing out all of this during a major, global product announcement doesn’t only make the technology feel toxic to potential customers—it could make working on such technology toxic to future prospective workers at Microsoft, too. And losing talent is a lot more painful for Microsoft than selling fewer AR sets.”

Like when Googlers succesfully got Project Maven canceled, threatening the source of companies’ value creation—the effort and talent of their workers—is a key tool that we, as workers, have to bring about the changes we see as necessary in our industry.

Worker’s Perspective No. 2 - Bonus!

In deciding to back out of NYC last week, Amazon was reportedly hoping to avoid scrutiny of their labor practices, and their relationship with ICE and Palantir. That is, the company would rather retreat than commit to the community that it won’t exploit workers and enable the internment and deportation of their neighbors.

This tells us that connecting local context with tech’s global practices is exactly what we should be doing, that this is a place where Amazon and others are vulnerable. Indeed, Amazon’s retreat came as the Berkeley City Council was considering a plan to “boycott Amazon for its role in tracking immigrants in cooperation with ICE.” The city was responding to months of advocacy from Amazon workers and immigrant rights organizations.

This hints at the kinds of solidarities that will be productive in the future, joining tech workers — who have insider knowledge — with community groups and advocates — who have expertise in the lived reality of big tech’s impacts on the ground. Together (and only together) we can develop a clearer picture of tech companies’ reach and implications, and work to build collective power at the local level capable of challenging expansive and exploitative tech everywhere.

Upcoming Events

Ellen Ullman on Life in Code (Silicon Valley Uncovered Seminar Series)
Tuesday, 2/26 5PM at USF Fromm Hall in San Francisco

Seattle Learning Club: Let a Hundred Zines Bloom
Saturday, 3/2 3PM at Capitol Hill Branch of The Seattle Public Library in Seattle

What does Amazon mean for the DC Metro Area?
Monday, 3/4 6:30pm at the WEE Meeting Room of the West End Library in DC

Feminist Data Justice with Lauren Hoffman and Niloufar Salehi (Silicon Valley Uncovered Seminar Series) 
Tuesday, 3/5 12:45PM at USF in San Francisco

TWC Austin Meet & Greet
Saturday, 3/9 6:30PM at Monkeywrench Books in Austin

Seattle Writing Club at Victrola 
Sunday, 3/15 1PM at Victrola on 15th in Seattle

The Code of Conduct is in effect at all TWC events.

Organizing Tip Of The Week


When we talk about organizing our workplaces, it would be more precise to say that we’re organizing our workplaces on the workers’ terms. In fact, every workplace is already organized, in some ways by the bosses and in some ways by chance and the society we live in. Next time you go into work, start thinking strategically about the social relationships you see. Parents may tend to befriend one another, for instance. Teams and job types are some obvious divisions, but workers also bond over sharing a hobby, language, or something as simple as smoking and taking shared smoke breaks. Depending on the workplace, there may even be official outlets for workers to connect on some lines, such as groups for underrepresented gender/ethnic backgrounds, but even then there are usually informal groupings around those same identities that will tell you even more. The more you learn about your workplace and your coworkers, the more prepared you’ll be to start having successful one-on-ones. And when you begin to build an organizing committee of workers across all these divisions, you’ll start seeing the true strength of worker power.

In The News

The Oakland teachers’ strike protests, in part, the influence that wealthy Silicon Valley execs exert on school district policy. Donateto the teachers’ strike fund, or consider volunteering.

OpenAI announced new results on tasks related to natural language processing. They chose not to release the full model on the grounds that it poses substantive risks to civil society in the form of propaganda and deceptive text generation. This blog post from the machine learning fairness community attempts to add some nuance to that discussion.

Kotaku published a letter from the AFL-CIO urging the games industry to unionize, in the wake of Blizzard laying off 800 employees during a record breaking year.

A Massachusetts tech company sold DNA testing equipment that was used as part of China’s mass internment, reeducation and tracking of the Uighur minority. After this was publicized the company committed to stop sales of their equipment to Xinjiang province.

Google’s chief legal officer, Kent Walker, announced internally that as of March 21st they will no longer force employees into binding arbitration. This was a major demand of the Google Walkout, and a resounding success for the burgeoning labor movement at Google. The organizers announced that they are introducing bills in the US Senate & House to ban forced arbitration clauses.

Song Of The Week

Sister Soulja - The Hate That Hate Produced

“Yeah, I know your nerves are wrecked to hear a woman
That’s a rebel
Well, you heard the bass, but Souljah’s the treble
The experts, the scientists, PhD’s
Souljah pays no homage to a paper degree
My mind is mine, my thoughts are a friend to me
Damn your color and white world supremacy
Got ya drippin and sweatin, you can’t believe what I said
Wait for me to change my mind, hold your breath
You’ll be dead…
Dead, dead, dead, dead…“