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News > Science and Tech

Microsoft Workers Urge Boss to Cancel Unethical $479M Military Contract

  • Microsoft Corporation headquarters at Issy-les-Moulineaux, France.

    Microsoft Corporation headquarters at Issy-les-Moulineaux, France. | Photo: Reuters

Published 23 February 2019
Opinion

Microsoft workers expressed concern that the company is not being transparent with employees regarding the "intent of the software they are building."

In a letter signed by some 50 Microsoft workers and addressed to CEO Satya Nadella and President Brad Smith, employees pressed the company to cancel a US$479 million U.S. Army technology contract which raises numerous ethical concerns. 

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The letter also pushes for the cancellation of current projects regarding "any and all weapons technologies," the issuing of a public statement confirming the request, and the implementation of an external body whose functions include enforcement and authorization.

The workers expressed concern that the company is not being transparent with employees regarding the "intent of the software they are building." The letter points out that the engineers "did not sign up to develop weapons," and want more control regarding the use of their developments. 

While the U.S. Army has already been using Microsoft's HoloLens technology for training purposes, the employees fear the shift to use during combat further distances "soldiers from the grim stakes of war and the reality of bloodshed."

The disputed contract calls for an Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) and states it's objective to "rapidly develop, test, and manufacture a single platform that soldiers can use to Fight, Rehearse, and Train that provides increased lethality, mobility and situational awareness necessary to achieve overmatch against out current and future adversaries."  

The authors of the letter declare disinterest in working on projects that are "designed to help people kill."

The contract projects the purchase of over 100,000 Microsoft headsets by the U.S. Military. This potential profit, paired with the attitude of Microsoft's president in the past, questions whether the employees will be successful in changing the company's current development stance.

Smith boldly boasts of the relationship between the company and the United States and refers to the contract as an opportunity to shape the future in a positive way. Employees have criticized Smith for 'missing the point' after the tech company president suggested that workers who have ethical concerns move to other departments within the company. 

Many tech workers have been objecting to employer companies' moves towards morally questionable uses of their development through the growing "Tech Won't Build It" movement. While the movement is gaining momentum, Microsoft employees have been unsuccessful, in past efforts, in pushing the company's CEOs to back out of contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Defense. 

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