A New York Times report this morning revealed intense internal debate at Google over the company’s involvement with the Department of Defense’s Maven program, which, per the Times, “uses artificial intelligence to interpret video images and could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes.” Though Google employees are reportedly wary about the tech giant entering into the realm of defense contracting, public records consulted by The Outline suggest that Google products — as well as products from companies it has acquired — have been used by America’s defense agencies for years.
For one thing, the military has spent nearly a decade using Google Earth to assist in its operations. A budget document from the Department of Defense issued in 2011 references the successful “integration of data from Google Earth” into its RealWorld program, a piece of software meant to allow warfighters to simulate and rehearse missions from a laptop computer. A previous budget document indicates that this had been in the works since 2008. Additionally, a 2013 budget document mentions completing “initial development for Google Earth mapping visualizations” for its Global Combat Support System, which has the capability to “trace the identity, status, and location of cargo world-wide from origin to destination.” The Global Combat Support System’s function is not dissimilar to that of Project Maven, the Department of Defense program that caused the internal uproar at Google.
Additionally, from 2014 to 2017, Google owned Skybox Imaging, a satellite company specializing in taking high-quality photos and videos. They, too, have worked with the military, providing satellite images to the Naval Research Laboratory in 2015.
The New York Times writes that when Google purchased the artificial intelligence firm DeepMind 2014, “The acquisition agreement [...] said DeepMind technology would never be used for military or surveillance purposes.” The Outline has contacted Google for comment as to why there is not a similar ban on the military use of Google Earth. We also contacted the DoD’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for more information on Google’s role in its initiatives. We will update this post if we receive responses from either party.