- On Friday, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels responded on Twitter to the protesters who disrupted his keynote speech repeatedly on Thursday.
- The protesters took issue with the company’s dealings with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
- ICE has been separating migrant children from their parents at the southern border of the US and keeping them in detention centers.
- Some of the protest organizers have compared those detention centers to Nazi concentration camps.
- Vogels responded with some personal family history about his own parents’ experience in the Nazi concentration camps.
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On Thursday, during what was supposed to be an ordinary keynote address by Amazon CTO Werner Vogels to a crowd of tech workers in New York, protests interrupted.
Protesters repeatedly interrupted the talk, taking issue over the family separation policy at the southern border of the US executed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Amazon Web Services’ dealings with the agency.
On Friday, the fallout continued when Vogels tweeted a powerful response.
“I let trolls be trolls. But to yesterday’s group who feel that because of my name I (and thus Amazon) must be the next incarnation of WII Nazi atrocities: I am Dutch. My parents sent to forced labor in Germany and were fortunate to return where many were not. Do your research,” he tweeted.
Vogel appears to be commenting on the fact that the Tech Workers Coalition New York, one of the groups responsible for the protest, has been comparing the detention centers on the US southern border, where migrant children taken from their parents are kept by authorities, to Nazi concentration camps.
The Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1940 and shipped thousands of the country’s Jews and political prisoners to forced labor concentration camps. World War II ended in 1945 making Vogels a baby boomer. He was born in 1958, according to Wikipedia.
Recently, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sparked a fierce public debate over the description of these facilities as “concentration camps,” after she used the term to describe the detention centers.
The Tech Coalition New York has been using similar language. On Thursday, during the protests that interupted Vogel’s keynote, it tweeted: “Technology will always be used by the powerful to further their own ends. As workers, we must band together and say no – we will not repeat the horrors of the past. We will not build concentration camps. We will not build the deportation machine. We will not separate families.”
It also tweeted: “As was pointed out by a speaker in the protests outside, we can’t forget that IBM played a crucial role in providing advanced technology to help murder thousands of jews [sic] and others during the Holocaust, and actually profited from the genocide.”
The protests were organized by several groups including Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, who demonstrated outside the event. Some of the protesters were shouting out Vogels’ name during their disruption, calling on him to stop Amazon’s association with ICE. Hundreds of others were outside disrupting traffic.
The protesters take issue with Amazon’s association with Palantir, which has acknowledged it works with the Homeland Security Investigations unit of ICE, and which reportedly uses AWS cloud services. Amazon has also met with ICE officials to pitch sales of its facial recognition tech and other AWS services, as revealed by emails between Amazon and various government officials obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundations.
Amazon employees are ramping up their protests internally, too. A group of them have sent a second letter this week demanding the company take a stand against ICE and cease its dealings with Palantir. Employees had sent a similar letter a year ago, specifically demanding that the company stop providing its Rekognition facial recognition software to law enforcement.
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, a spokesperson told the Washington Post that companies and government organizations should use technology “responsibly and lawfully” and said it is working with lawmakers on regulations for AI tech.
Amazon also has not yet posted a replay of the much-interrupted keynote speech online. However some reports said that during the livestream, the video had filtered out the protesters’ voices.