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Partner in crime: Google selling advanced AI tools to Israel, says report

File photo shows an exterior view of the Google office in Mountain View, California.

Google, an American multinational technology company, is offering advanced artificial intelligence and machine-learning capabilities to the Israeli regime, which human rights advocates fear would reinforce the regime’s human rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories.

A report in the Intercept on Sunday, citing “training materials”, said Google is selling the advanced technology to the Israeli regime through its controversial “Project Nimbus” contract.

It said the American behemoth was providing the regime with the full suite of machine learning and artificial intelligence tools available through the Google Cloud Platform.

The documents show that the new cloud would give Israel “capabilities for facial detection, automated image categorization, object tracking, and even sentiment analysis that claims to assess the emotional content of pictures, speech, and writing.”

“Google engineers have spent the time since worrying whether their efforts would inadvertently bolster the ongoing Israeli military occupation of Palestine,” the report states.

Pertinently, the Israeli finance ministry had on April 2021 announced the contract for a $1.2 billion cloud computing system jointly built by Google and Amazon.

“The project is intended to provide the government, the defense establishment, and others with an all-encompassing cloud solution,” the ministry said in its announcement.

Global human rights watchdogs have long accused the Tel Aviv regime of committing abhorrent crimes against humanity by maintaining an apartheid system against Palestinians.

The sophistication of Google’s data analysis offerings, they fear, could only worsen the increasingly data-driven military occupation.

The Intercept report notes that the documents obtained by it “detail for the first time the Google Cloud features provided through the Nimbus contract,” adding that it could “easily augment Israel’s ability to surveil people and process vast stores of data — already prominent features of the Israeli occupation.”

“Data collection over the entire Palestinian population was and is an integral part of the occupation,” Ori Givati of Breaking the Silence, an anti-occupation advocacy group of Israeli military veterans, told The Intercept in an email.

“Generally, the different technological developments we are seeing in the Occupied Territories all direct to one central element which is more control,” he added.

The report quotes Mona Shtaya, Palestinian digital rights advocate at 7amleh-The Arab Center for Social Media Advancement, as saying that living under a surveillance state for years has taught them that “all the collected information in the Israeli/Palestinian context could be securitized and militarized”.

“Image recognition, facial recognition, and emotional analysis, among other things will increase the power of the surveillance state to violate Palestinian right to privacy and to serve their main goal, which is to create the panopticon feeling among Palestinians that we are being watched all the time, which would make the Palestinian population control easier,” she says.

The Intercept says the educational materials obtained by it show that Google briefed the Israeli regime “on using what’s known as sentiment detection, an increasingly controversial and discredited form of machine learning”.

“Google workers who reviewed the documents said they were concerned by their employer’s sale of these technologies to Israel, fearing both their inaccuracy and how they might be used for surveillance or other militarized purposes,” reads the report.

Importantly, as The Intercept points out, Google has its own public list of “AI principles,” a document the company says is an “ethical charter that guides the development and use of artificial intelligence in our research and products.”

“Israel, though, has set up its relationship with Google to shield it from both the company’s principles and any outside scrutiny. Perhaps fearing the fate of the Pentagon’s Project Maven, a Google AI contract felled by intense employee protests, the data centers that power Nimbus will reside on Israeli territory, subject to Israeli law and insulated from political pressures,” the report remarks.

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