Microsoft Workers Protest U.S. Army Contract

The workers' demand that Microsoft cancel a $480 million deal for AR headsets is the latest example of backlash from employees of tech giants.
Matthew HellerFebruary 25, 2019
Microsoft Workers Protest U.S. Army Contract

Microsoft employees are calling for the company to cancel a contract for augmented reality technology with the U.S. Army, saying they do not wish to become “war profiteers.”

In an open letter to CEO Satya Nadella and president Brad Smith, a group describing itself as “Microsoft Workers 4 Good” expressed alarm that Microsoft “is working to provide weapons technology to the U.S. military” that “will be deployed on the battlefield, and works by turning warfare into a simulated ‘video game.’”

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The company in November won a $480 million contract to supply augmented reality HoloLens headsets for the Army’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS).

“As employees and shareholders we do not want to become war profiteers,” the letter said. “To that end, we believe that Microsoft must stop in its activities to empower the U.S. Army’s ability to cause harm and violence.”

The letter demands that Microsoft cancel the IVAS contract, cease developing any and all weapons technologies, and appoint an ethics review board “with the power to enforce and publicly validate compliance” with the company’s acceptable use policy.

As Reuters reports, the Microsoft workers’ move “continues a trend of worker backlash within tech giants that began nearly a year ago.”

Google backed off on renewing a Pentagon contract that used its artificial intelligence technology to analyze drone imagery amid employee protests and workers have also lobbied the company to stop work on a censored search product for the Chinese market.

“Companies can’t necessarily ignore complaints, either — objections from Amazon staff over facial recognition technology helped fuel concerns from politicians and shareholders,” Engadget said. “Like it or not, tech firms may have to directly address these worries on a more frequent basis if they want to avoid turmoil in their ranks.”

The Microsoft workers stressed that while the company had previously licensed technology to the U.S. military, it had “never crossed the line into weapons development … The application of HoloLens within the IVAS system is designed to help people kill.”

Microsoft said it remained committed to assisting the military and would advocate for laws to ensure responsible use of new technologies.

Photo: Microsoft