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Facebook won't launch military cyberattacks. Will Google?

As our collective faith in government institutions has declined, we've put more pressure on corporati
April 17 · Issue #121 · View online
The Interface
As our collective faith in government institutions has declined, we’ve put more pressure on corporations to represent our values. And so perhaps it was inevitable that one day corporations would feel the need to agree to their own Geneva Conventions — a set of principles to guide them during times of warfare, online and otherwise.
That day has arrived. Here’s David E. Sanger in the New York Times:
More than 30 high-tech companies, led by Microsoft and Facebook, announced a set of principles on Tuesday that included a declaration that they would not help any government — including that of the United States — mount cyberattacks against “innocent civilians and enterprises from anywhere,” reflecting Silicon Valley’s effort to separate itself from government cyberwarfare.
The principles, which have been circulating among senior executives in the tech industry for weeks, also commit the companies to come to the aid of any nation on the receiving end of such attacks, whether the motive for the attack is “criminal or geopolitical.” Although the list of firms agreeing to the accord is lengthy, several companies have declined to sign on at least for now, including Google, Apple and Amazon.
Of course, there’s an economic incentive here as well. A press release announcing the Tech Accord says businesses could lose as much as $8 trillion by 2022 as a result of cyberattacks. 
But if you’re worried about cyberattacks that threaten democracy, the good news here is that the companies plan to collaborate. The accord “may include joint work on new security practices and new features the companies can deploy in their individual products and services.”
Sometimes these collaborations fall apart without accomplishing much, of course. But at a time when Russia is actively conducting penetration tests of the internet’s infrastructure, I’m glad that companies like Cisco, Oracle, and Microsoft are sharing information with Facebook ahead of our midterm elections.
Meanwhile, the debate over government collaboration is growing more fractious at Google. Earlier this month, some 3,000 employees sent a letter to CEO Sundar Pichai protesting the company’s involvement with a Pentagon program working on technology to enable more precise drone strikes.
But today, longtime executive chairman and current Google board member Eric Schmidt seemed to call for even deeper ties between the company and the Pentagon, report Daniel Flatley and Mark Bergen:
At a Tuesday hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Schmidt gave a strong endorsement of the Pentagon’s proposal for a new AI center and its collaboration with technology companies.
“The nature of AI is a long-term technology that will be useful for defensive and perhaps offensive purposes as well,” said Schmidt, who also chairs the Defense Department’s Innovation Board. Any efforts to “make it easier” for the Pentagon to work with private industry would be welcome, he added.
It’s unclear to what degree Schmidt is speaking for himself, versus speaking for Google. (Schmidt putting his foot in his mouth has historically been one of my favorite genres of content.)
But the move seemed likely to increase tensions at Don’t Be Evil, Inc. If Google moves to collaborate with the government to launch cyberattacks, Sundar Pichai can expect to receive more than a letter.

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And finally ...
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