Wednesday, January 22, 2014

S.F. Bay Area gentrification protest goes hyperlocal, targets one Google employee

Protests against what some are calling the gentrification of the San Francisco Bay Area by tech giants such as Google, Apple, Genentech, and more just got personal. On Tuesday, an anonymous submission on local news site IndyBay (via Ars Technica) spoke of a protest that went hyperlocal, targeting the home of a Google engineer who has worked on Google's self-driving car, and Street View, prior to that.

Recently, as well, Anthony Levandowski, the Google employee, has been key in spearheading a new downtown Berkeley condominium development project. Protesters have said that the development is linked to a design firm that has done work for the U.S. military.

The IndyBay post, by the group counterforce, opened with the following:
At 7am this morning, a group of people went to the home of Anthony Levandowski, a Google X developer. His house is a pompous, minimally decorated two story palace with stone lions guarding the door. After ringing his doorbell to alert him of the protest, a banner was held in front of his house that read "Google's Future Stops Here" and fliers about him were distributed around the neighborhood. The fliers detailed his work with the defense industry and his plans to develop luxury condos in Berkeley.
The post reminds us eerily of (hacker group) Anonymous postings.
At one point, his neighbor emerged from her house. She said she knew about his collaboration with the military but insisted he was a "nice person." We see no contradiction here. It is very likely that this person, who develops war robots for the military and builds surveillance infrastructure, is a pleasant neighbor. But so what?
The flier is here, and despite part of it being scanned upside-down, added the following description of Levandowski's actions on Tuesday morning:
Preparing for the action, we watched Levandowski step out of his front door. He had Google Glasses over his eyes, carried his baby in his arm, and held a tablet with his free hand. As he descended the stairs with the baby, his eyes were on the tablet through the prism of his Google Glasses, not on the life against his chest. He appeared in this moment like the robot he admits that he is.
It also commented on the way that the U.S. and other Western nations revel and enjoy their technology while others either build them (China and more) for low wages or mine precious metals in terrible conditions.
There are men and women in the Congo, slaving away in giant pits in order to extract gold and other precious metals from the earth. This gold will go into phones and tablets made by companies like Google, Apple, and Microsoft. Anthony Levandowski has never worked in a pit mine nor will his children. People like him are exempt from this type of degrading and exploitative labor. Instead, he can casually stare at his screens as if there was not human blood making this technology possible, as if there was not a life in his hands.
This incident is just the latest escalation in the protests -- which seemed to start with regard to the buses that cart employees from locales such as San Fracisco to their workplaces in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Protesters blame the companies behind these buses for rising rents, and for using public bus stops without paying (although on Tuesday night, the San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority (SFMTA) voted -- for the first time -- to take action against Google, Apple, Facebook, and a number of other high-tech companies using shuttle buses and public bus stops.

The companies now will have to pay $1 per day for each stop where passengers are picked up or dropped off. The measure won't take effect until and unless approved by local voters later this spring.

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