The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency is testing a buzzy new Google Cloud product — an expedited trial with the federal agency that was pushed through by Google executives amid employee protests.
The CBP — the federal agency that enforces immigration laws at and around the border — has been given a free trial of Google Cloud’s new hybrid cloud product Anthos, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter. The test is being carried out by a third-party reseller. Using such resellers is a common practice in the public sector, as government agencies seek expert help to integrate new technologies into their IT infrastructure.
Free trials through resellers for potential Google Cloud customers are not uncommon, the source said. But because Anthos is such a new product, first released in April, Google has not yet granted resellers the ability to offer their customers a free Anthos trial.
The source said an executive on the Google Cloud team “pushed through an exception” and made sure the CBP was able to start using Anthos in a testing environment, even in the absence of a formal trial program for resellers. That trial began on August 9th, the source said.
Meanwhile, activist employees at the online advertising giant have rallied to prevent Google from working with the CBP. Last week, a petition was circulated and signed by over 1,300 current employees urging Google not to provide cloud services to the agency, in protest of Trump administration policies.
In a response to an internal email thread earlier this week, Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian acknowledged the CBP’s Anthos trial, but said the company had not yet entered into a paid deal with the agency for this particular project.
Two current Google employees said that they viewed Kurian’s email, sent to an email group open to all Google engineers called “eng-misc,” as a way to calm the nerves of those concerned about the potential contract. Kurian said in his comments that the free trial would be used by the CBP for “IT services,” but that was seen by those employees as an apparent attempt to downplay the possibility of its services being used for more controversial aspects of the agency, including its deportation efforts.
This also comes as the CBP begins to explore the possibility of moving more of its IT infrastructure to the cloud, in what could be a lucrative contract. In July, the CBP filed a public request for information from cloud vendors on the scale and scope of such a project, ahead of any formal bidding process — and, in that request, the agency disclosed that it was already using cloud services from Google, as well as from Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle.
A Google spokesperson declined to comment to Business Insider.
The hybrid cloud
Interestingly, Amazon and Microsoft both offer hybrid-cloud solutions, which allow customers to run their applications across both the cloud and their own data centers.
But neither offer what Google Cloud’s Anthos is capable of — a hybrid solution that allows customers to use other clouds besides Google’s own. If such functionality is critical for the CBP, it might decide to extend this trial period into a paid relationship. It could also make Google more attractive as a partner for CBP as it modernizes its IT infrastructure further.
Google has been called unpatriotic
Conservative-leaning critics have pilloried Google for not embracing opportunities to work with federal agencies. Peter Thiel, a Facebook board member and outspoken Trump supporter, said in July that Google was not a patriotic company because it scrapped an AI project with the Pentagon following employee protests.
Thiel has called on the FBI and CIA to investigate Google for its decision to explore the possibility of resuming operations in China, while shying away from work with the US military.
Meanwhile, concerns over tech companies engaging with US immigration agencies have not been limited to Google.
On Monday, filings revealed that Palantir, a data-analytics company cofounded by Thiel, has secured a $49 million three-year contract with ICE. Earlier this year, it was reported that Palantir’s products were indeed used to aid the agency in its detention and deportation efforts, a claim from which the firm had tried to distance itself. Last week, protests took place outside of Palantir’s Palo Alto, California offices, calling on the company to end its contracts with ICE.
Similarly, employees at Salesforce, who have called on co-CEO Marc Benioff to cut ties with the CBP. Though the philanthropic-minded exec said he “wrestled” with the decision, the Salesforce contract with the CBP remains in place today.
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