By Aaron Pressman and Adam Lashinsky
June 20, 2018

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If you happened to be watching The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC last night around 9:58 p.m. or so, you might have witnessed a rare sight. Trying to read the first sentence of this appalling story from the Associated Press, Maddow broke down, near tears, and could not finish her show. An indelible moment in the history of live news and a sign of where we are in America in 2018.

The immoral and widely condemned policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the border has also flared up as another battlefield between tech companies and their employees. Just a few weeks ago, Google said it would not seek to renew a contract with the Pentagon to use AI to help analyze drone video footage. Some 4,000 Google employees had signed a petition opposing the company’s participation to “build warfare technology.”

In recent days, many tech leaders including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Google’s Sundar Pichai have criticized the child separation policy. But it was Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, himself an immigrant from India, who got tied into a bit of a knot about the issue. It seems the Redmond software giant was bragging about its work with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, the very group tasked with carrying out the abhorrent policy, in a blog post in January. That prompted some Microsoft employees to call for dropping the ICE contract.

Nadella, in an email to employees, tried to have it both ways. Calling the border policy “cruel and abusive,” he said the company would lobby in favor of legislation to end the separations. But he also refused to end Microsoft’s work with ICE, saying the company was not working on “any projects related” to the child removals, only “supporting legacy mail, calendar, messaging and document management workloads.” How does Nadella think ICE officials are planning and executing their new policy? To recount one of the darkest chapters in the history of the technology industry, IBM supplied the system used to organize the Holocaust. To be sure, the current U.S. moral crisis is no holocaust and IBM’s deep involvement in customizing its punch card technology for the Nazis stands out like a red flag compared to a simple government cloud services contract. But when ethics become slippery, we find ourselves sliding down into the morass. And the tech industry may find that its workers won’t go there.


Adam incorrectly wrote on Tuesday that shares of Chinese e-commerce giant trade on the NYSE. is a Nasdaq-listed company. He also said Google has been blocked from selling ads in China. While that’s largely true, it isn’t completely right. The Silicon Valley company sells ads in China for businesses to grow their export businesses, and Google’s AdMob advertising platform for app developers has a presence in China.

Aaron Pressman


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