Over the past week, tech giants including Microsoft, Amazon and IBM have expressed solidarity with protesters who have taken to the streets to oppose police brutality. But some activists say that it’s not enough for these wealthy and influential companies to use social media to amplify black voices and call for racial justice — that they have a responsibility to break their business ties with law enforcement or use those relationships as leverage to demand needed reforms.
“If the companies truly believed what they were saying, they’d cut their contracts with any police department and actually create different tools and different policies that would protect peoples’ data from reaching the hands of law enforcement agencies that are very clearly targeting and intend to hurt and harm black and brown communities,” said Jacinta Gonzalez, an organizer with Mijente, a digital and grassroots hub for organizing within the Latinx community.
Any such moves would be complex and controversial, and it’s not clear how broadly they would be supported. Some tech tools, like body cameras, have the potential to bring more accountability to policing. But the nationwide protests, following a white police officer’s video-recorded killing of a black man in Minneapolis, come at a time when tech giants are selling increasingly more powerful and invasive products to law enforcement agencies that critics say can be abused and exacerbate racial disparities in enforcement.
At the same time, some of Silicon Valley’s predominant companies have experienced a wave of internal activism over their contracts with government agencies and law enforcement, and face mounting pressure to correct the lack of diversity within their own ranks. Over the last week, tech companies have tried to answer this moment with carefully crafted statements, but activists argue that many of these companies’ business models undermine their rhetoric.
“I think it’s absurd, really,” said Chris Gilliard, a professor at Macomb Community College, who focuses on digital surveillance and other forms of “digital redlining.” “They got the PR notice that they were supposed to say something, and they all sort of mirror each other with these meaningless platitudes about how they stand in solidarity.”