Google’s head of government relations, Kate Harding, told Axios that the company plans to make its case as it attempts to secure defense contracts, reasoning that if a company is involved in software and e-commerce, it could be excluded from certain services if they don’t line up with the U.S. Constitution.
Harding’s arguments were bolstered by a recent report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) that suggested Google could essentially provide services for the Pentagon without causing constitutional issues.
“Under the old thinking, the Pentagon would have to work around Google’s technologies by developing its own technologies, but that’s not possible any more,” Gina Seaton, of the ITIF, told Axios. “There are no going-ons.”
In April, the Pentagon announced it was working on a memo that would lead to future contracts with Google and Microsoft, Google’s two largest competitors in the digital economy. The memo is expected to make more information public about the contracts and their process.
In a lengthy post on the Axios blog, Harding discussed the irony that the U.S. is spending more on military procurement than it is investing in space exploration. By 2022, the Pentagon will have budgeted $560 billion toward defense.
Harding said that Google could easily serve as a competitor for military contracts, and is happy to do so. For Harding, the bigger challenge is to serve as a reason to support the Pentagon’s needs while also serving as a reminder of the company’s commitment to transparency and to the Constitution.
Google is well-aware of the controversy surrounding its recent “Brilliant” project, a series of ads that were later pulled from YouTube, and subsequently led to an extraordinary shutdown of Google+. The ads used white nationalists as their spokespeople to promote products, such as Google’s self-driving cars and its voice assistant, which enabled people to type and hear words with the help of voice recognition technology. After an outcry, Google CEO Sundar Pichai apologized for the ads, but Harding pointed out that it was unlikely that Google would be able to cash in on the Pentagon by doing things differently.
Pichai “played the racist card” that “can be used against Google,” Harding argued. Harding also pointed out that Pichai has recently said that Google was too long on culture for some sectors, implying that he was too long on progressive politics for the defense industry. Harding argued that Pichai’s misstep isn’t because he’s too progressive but because he’s too likely to think the Pentagon has too many barriers to market entry.
“We have developed tools that will make it easier for people to get at the military budget’s data,” Harding said. “The wrong message here is to take an approach of content policing, and censor everything that comes in the door. We should welcome the government’s investments in technology.”