There are some in the technology industry who believe U.S. tech companies shouldn't partner with the U.S. government on matters of defense. But Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos isn't one of them.

During an interview at the Reagan National Defense Forum in California, Bezos said that it's incumbent upon all major tech companies, including Amazon, Google, and others, to remember that the U.S. is "the good guys" and tech companies must do their part to improve American self-defense.

"I know it's complicated, but do you want a strong national defense or don't you?" Bezos said, according to Business Insider. "I think you do."

Bezos's comments come at a time when tensions are high in Silicon Valley and elsewhere over the role big technology companies should play in defense efforts.

The issue came to a head last year, when Google executives bowed to employee pressure over its Project Maven partnership with the U.S. government. That partnership saw Google provide machine learning technology to aid the U.S. Defense Department in drone footage. After the project was revealed, Google employees protested the program and said in a letter to CEO Sundar Pichai that the company "should not be in the business of war."

Bezos acknowledged that there are strong opinions in the technology industry on whether companies should support the Defense Department, but he believes a company's leadership team must be willing to tell those employees that national defense comes first.

"It's [up to] the senior leadership's team to say to people: 'Look, I understand these are emotional issues, that's OK, and we don't have to agree on everything, but this is how we're going to do it,'" Bezos said. "'We are going to support the Department of Defense.' This country is important."

His comments come amid a complaint Amazon filed against the U.S. government, alleging it committed bias on behalf of President Donald Trump after Microsoft was awarded a $10 billion cloud services contract for the government's JEDI program. Amazon argues that Bezos's contentious relationship with Trump prompted the government to choose Microsoft over Amazon, which had expected to get the contract. The U.S. government, however, hasn't confirmed that's the case.

Regardless, Bezos's comments will surely stir up some controversy at Amazon and elsewhere on the topic of whether the technology employees must comply with senior executives aiding in war and espionage efforts. And, as Bezos himself acknowledges, it's not an easy topic to tackle. 

But what is clear is regardless of the policy companies take, the U.S. government is willing to spend billions of dollars to get access to the technology the businesses make. After all, these companies are in the client services business, regardless of the client.

Published on: Dec 9, 2019
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