Google I/O: Protesters accuse Google of unfair evictions and building killer robots

Google's annual developer conference highlighted its tech innovations - but also its growing list of sins in the eyes of its critics
  • @jjvincent

Among the announcements and unveilings at Google’s developer conference this week there were two voices that stood out – protesters who twice interrupted Google employees mid-speech, shouting that the company needed to “develop a conscience”.

According to reports from The Verge, both individuals were part of San Francisco activists groups trying to stop the eviction of local residents in favour of new, better-paying tenants - usually well-heeled youngsters employed by Google and other tech firms.

The first protester, a third-grade school teacher named Claudia Tirado (above), is currently sharing a seven-unit Victorian building with a top Google lawyer Jack Halprin – who is reportedly trying to evict Tirado from the building he now owns.

Mr Halprin is reportedly using a controversial piece of local legislation - the 1986 Ellis Act – that has been described by local news site SFGate as a “law used by speculators in the city as a way to buy affordable properties, evict tenants and flip a property for profit”.

While interrupting the speakers at Google I/O, Miss Tirado shouted “Google is evicting me from my house. Jack Halprin is a millionaire. He is evicting me and my family from my house”. Miss Tirado currently shares her two bedroom apartment with her boyfriend and their two-year-old son.

After Miss Tirado was removed from the event, Google engineer David Burke – who had been on stage describing new battery-saving features – joked that the extended battery life on Android handsets would come in useful during a “long protest”.

Two quadrupedal robots built by Boston Dynamics to assist infantry by carrying equipment

A second protester interrupted by shouting “You all work for a totalitarian company that builds robots that kill people” – a reference to Google’s acquisition of Boston Dynamics, a US company that develops a range of robots to assist the military.

After buying the company Google said that it would honour existing contracts that Boston Dynamics held with the US military (including one worth $10.8 million in funding) adding that it did not plan to become a military contractor itself.

Both protests show how the public’s perception of Google (especially around the San Francisco area where the company’s headquarters are based) have changed - from Google as an independently-minded start-up to a typically profit-focused corporation.

As well as the protest at the conference itself, ten individuals were also arrested at Google’s headquarters earlier in the week for trespass. The group was protesting Google’s perceived lack of support for Net Neutrality legislation in the US, with the company responding that they were "happy to have protesters on campus" but only from "sunrise to sunset (5:39am to 8:33pm to be exact)".

The protestors themselves said that although Google had "come out in support of preserving a free and open web," they believed that "much more can be done" to support an "internet that is free from censorship, discrimination, and access fees."

Although the legitimacy of these protests will be judged on a case by case basis, the list of Google's sins in the eyes of its detractors is growing. As the company pushes its technology further into customers' lives (introducing computers for the home and for the car - as well as our computers) objections to its intrusion are likely to increase as well.