“When the United States favors war, big tech benefits”, deplore researchers from the Crescendo project. For them, the tech giants have benefited greatly from government contracts since September 11, 2001.
While Microsoft and Amazon recently signed $ 50 million in contracts with the Pentagon on Project Maven, a report published Thursday, September 9 highlights the depth of the relationship that has existed for 20 years between the US federal state and the tech giants. After September 11, 2001 and the declaration of “war on terrorism” by George W. Bush, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, but also Twitter, have greatly benefited from government contracts and subcontracts initiated as part of this campaign, according to researchers gathered within the Crescendo project. This one, initiated by the militant groups Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE), MPower Change and LittleSis, focuses its research in particular on “companies complicit and profiting” of what he describes as violence against Muslim communities and “Bipoc”, for “black, Indigenous and people of color”.
For this, the group of researchers relies on data from Tech Inquiry. This site, founded by a former Google artificial intelligence researcher, lists a large number of government contracts signed by these large technology companies in the United States, but also in Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. However, it should be noted that this database “does not include information on many other potentially significant contracts the disclosure of which is not fully public”, underlines the project. It would be like this “very probable” that the figures mentioned under-represent the total number of contracts signed between the government and the major American tech players, as well as their amounts.
Amazon, Google and Microsoft singled out
However, the data already available is revealing. Between 2007 and 2019, the number of contracts binding for example the Department of Homeland Security of the United States (DHS) and the technological giants has multiplied by 50. On the side of the Pentagon (Department of Defense, or DOD), the volume of these agreements doubled under the Trump era between 2017 and 2019, exceeding the number of all contracts signed over the same period binding the big tech and DHS, Department of Justice (DOJ), and Department of State combined.
The report, which also emphasizes the recruitments of “major figures” federal agencies in key positions of these private companies, notes that Amazon, Google and Microsoft won the majority of tenders launched under the “war on terrorism”. Between 2012 and 2019, Amazon would have been particularly close to the Pentagon, with a volume of agreements multiplied by 20 over the period. But also, to a certain extent, DHS, since the number of missions entrusted to the Seattle company between 2015 and 2018 has increased nine-fold. According to the researchers, 86% of Amazon’s government contracts since 2004 have been initiated by agencies that have played a central role in this “war on terrorism”.
On the Mountain View side, Google would have concluded more agreements between 2004 and 2015 with the DOD, mainly relating to the provision of services cloud or GPS solutions, that Amazon and Microsoft. In Redmond, however, Microsoft would have benefited from the presidency of Donald Trump (possibly due to the tense relationship between the former US president and Jeff Bezos, former CEO of Amazon), with a number of signatures of public contracts multiplied by six between 2016 and 2018. The report even affirms that the development of the activity cloud of the company headed by Satya Nadella was made thanks to its partnerships with DHS. Facebook, finally, is not left out: Mark Zuckerberg’s company at least doubled its number of government contracts between 2015 and 2016.
Huge sources of income for the big tech
In total, the report estimates that Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Facebook have earned more than $ 44 billion in revenue from transactions signed with the Pentagon and DHS alone. “When the United States favors war, big tech benefits”, deplore the researchers.
For the digital giants, public contracts indeed represent crucial issues and immense sources of revenue, even for companies that generate billions of dollars per year on the private side. For example, in November 2020, the CIA had attributed a cloud contract, called C2E, for which the amount would reach 10 billion dollars, to several players: AWS, Microsoft, Google, Oracle and IBM.
The US Army also recently trusted Microsoft for a contract estimated at $ 22 billion for the supply of 100,000 HoloLens augmented reality headsets to the Pentagon. Considering the size of these budgets, it was not surprising to see Amazon and Microsoft competing in different tenders lately.
Note, however, that Gafam employees are not always in agreement with the signing of such contracts. On the call for tenders “Jedi”, for example, Google employees showed their dissatisfaction and managed to convince their management to withdraw from the race. But this growing discontent also seems to be hitting a wall: at the end of August 2021, Google affirmed that its employees had no legitimacy to challenge the choice of its customers.
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