Sara Castellanos, Wall Street Journal, July 11, 2019
Groups of demonstrators rallied outside the Amazon Web Services Summit at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, a free event open to the public. Inside, dozens of protesters in the audience interrupted a keynote speech by Amazon Chief Technology Officer Werner Vogels five times before they were guided out.
An Amazon representative said in an emailed statement: “There is clearly a need for more clarity from governments on what is acceptable use of [artificial intelligence] and ramifications for its misuse, and we’ve provided a proposed legislative framework for this. We remain eager for the government to provide this additional clarity and legislation.”
Other companies that have been the target of protests due to their links to immigration enforcement include Microsoft Corp. and Wayfair Inc.
When asked last month whether Amazon’s cloud division works with ICE, Amazon Web Services Chief Executive Andy Jassy said the company doesn’t disclose the identities of customers who don’t give it permission to do so. “We will serve the federal government, and they’re going to have to use the technology responsibly,” he said in an interview with journalist Kara Swisher at a Recode conference.
Social and political issues are becoming more important for technology companies, shaping perceptions of reputation and brand.
The protesters at the Amazon event cited media reports that Amazon Web Services provides the underlying technology and infrastructure for several companies that work with ICE. The agency is expected to round up thousands of undocumented migrants across the country starting on Sunday, according to administration officials.
Amazon leaders are “choosing to be complicit” in the detention, deportation and deaths of immigrants, including children, said Angeles Solis, lead organizer of Make the Road New York, one of the groups that organized the protest.
The protesters who disrupted Mr. Vogels’s two-hour speech about cloud computing played audio excerpts of children being separated from their parents at a border patrol facility, obtained by ProPublica last year. Mr. Vogels stopped his presentation for several seconds as protesters yelled chants such as “cut ties with ICE.”
While companies have the right to make business decisions, consumers, employees and shareholders have the right to protest those decisions, said Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington think tank whose board includes Amazon officials and other tech industry leaders.
“But it would be unfortunate if doing business with the U.S. government becomes so polarizing that America’s best tech companies are forced to the sidelines,” Mr. Castro said.