Earlier this week, David Harville, one of seven former eBay employees involved in a 2020 campaign to harass the creators of a newsletter critical of the e-commerce company, pleaded guilty to five federal felony charges, ending one of the most bizarre episodes in recent tech history.
In June 2020, the US Department of Justice , including Harville, with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses. Of the group, Harville was the final employee to admit involvement in the harassment campaign that targeted Ina and David Steiner, reported on Thursday.
In 2019, the Massachusetts couple published an article in their newsletter about litigation involving eBay. Responding to what they considered negative coverage of the company, the group carried out a harassment campaign that involved, among other actions, sending the couple a preserved fetal pig, live spiders and a funeral wreath. They also created fake social media accounts to send threatening messages to the Steiners and share their home address online.
According to the Department of Justice’s , part of Harville’s involvement in the campaign included a plot to install a GPS tracking device on the Steiner’s car. Harville, alongside James Baugh, one of the other former employees charged in the scheme, carried with them fake documents allegedly designed to show the two were investigating the Steiners for threatening eBay executives.
Last July, a federal judge sentenced Philip Cooke, the first of the seven former employees convicted in the scheme, to 18 months in prison. At the time, US District Judge Allison Burroughs called the entire case “.” That same summer, the Steiners sued several eBay employees, including former CEO Devin Wenig, for carrying out a conspiracy to “intimidate, threaten to kill, torture, terrorize, stalk and silence them.” Wenig has having any knowledge of the campaign.
Three years after its involvement with the military’s controversial program led to employee strife within its walls, Google reportedly hopes to once again work with the Pentagon. According to , the company is “aggressively” pursuing the Defense Department’s Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability cloud contract. A Google spokesperson confirmed to Engadget it was pursuing a bid.
Announced at the start of July, the program is a replacement for the military’s initiative. With JEDI, the Pentagon had planned to modernize its IT infrastructure with help from . However, the contract stalled after Amazon , in part over allegations former President Donald Trump had .
Unlike JEDI, JWCC is a multi-vendor contract that will see the military eventually working with more than one company. When the Pentagon announced the program, it said it would collect proposals from both Amazon and Microsoft. At the time, it said they were the two vendors best suited to meet its needs, but noted it was also open to working with other companies. Google did not bid on JEDI in part because of what happened with Project Maven.
The program, , saw the military use machine learning to interpret drone footage. When the company its involvement in Maven, it said its technology was involved in “non-offensive uses only,” and that it was flagging material for “human review.” Outrage within the company quickly grew. Approximately 4,000 employees petitioned Google CEO to pull the company out of the project. Some workers even . In the aftermath of the protest, the company did not with the Pentagon.
It also established a set of to guide its military AI work. Those prohibit the company from using machine learning in relation to “weapons or other technologies whose principal purpose or implementation is to cause or directly facilitate injury to people.” When Google established the principles, Pichai reportedly told workers his hope was they would stand “the test of time.”
In spite of those guidelines, Google is pursuing the JWCC contract. According to The Times, the company has “raced” to prepare a proposal to present to Pentagon officials on why it should be involved in the project. The contract is reportedly a priority for the company, with the outlet reporting that Google pulled employees off other assignments to work on its bid.
“We strongly believe a multi-cloud strategy offers the department the best solution today and in the future,” a spokesperson for the company said. “We are firmly committed to serving our public sector customers, including the DoD, Department of Energy, NIH, and many other government agencies, and we will evaluate any future bid opportunities accordingly."
Google will reportedly find out if it qualifies to make a bid sometime in the next few weeks. The question then becomes if the contract is compatible with its AI guidelines, and what effect that will have on its employees. Those principles leave room for it to work with the military on projects that involve things like cybersecurity, and it already has contracts in place to help the Defense Department with pilot training and Navy ship maintenance.
If it obtains the contract, Engadget has learned the company anticipates it could help the Defense Department with cloud services like hosting, storage and networking, in addition to artificial intelligence and machine learning. Specifically, the Pentagon could use Google's data analytics capabilities to predict and monitor forces like climate change and the current pandemic. Any custom AI work the job involves will need to be vetted through the company's guidelines. It also expects it could work with the Pentagon on more prosaic issues like security, employee travel and finance.
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You are a large company with a few issues, but need congress to pass a few bills, lean in your favour, or just grease a few palms. How do you do it? Easy, you hire someone who has worked at the White House before and knows all the ins-and-outs of the trade.
That is exactly what Google has done by hiring former White House deputy national security adviser, Caroline Atkinson. She will now be working for Google to lead its public policy efforts. This means she will be handling some very large and tough legal issues Google has been having such as antitrust allegations, Europe’s right to be forgotten laws, general censorship, and more.
Atkinson is a pretty great hire on paper. Other than the White House she has also worked as a journalist and an official at the International Monetary Fund. She shouldn’t have too much trouble handling Google’s issues.
Source: New York Times
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