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'Google Bus' protests escalate as activists target employee's home

SAN FRANCISCO -- Bay Area protests against technology companies got very personal on Wednesday when activists blocked the driveway of a Google employee's home.

Calling themselves the Counterforce, the protesters showed up on Anthony Levandowski’s doorstep to call attention to the Berkeley resident's work for the military and Google’s “surveillance” techniques. 

Levandowski, who works for Google’s X laboratory, where he helped develop Google’s self-driving cars, was recently featured in the New Yorker magazine. In the article, he talked about his 43-mile commute in a Google self-driving car from Berkeley to the Google campus in Mountain View.

Protesters said they rang his doorbell to alert him that they planned to protest Levandowski's work with the defense industry developing “war robots," (Google recently bought Boston Dynamics, a military robotics contractor) and a condo project being built on land he owns in Berkeley.

Then they held a banner in front of his house that read “Google’s Future Stops Here.” They also placed fliers on the windshields of cars that said: “Anthony Levandowski is building an unconscionable world of surveillance, control and automation. He is also your neighbor.”

The protest to block Levandowski’s “personal commute” lasted 45 minutes. The protesters then went to block a Google bus at the BART station on Ashby Avenue in Berkeley.

And they issued a warning in an anonymous post on local news site Indybay.

“Our problem is with Google, its pervasive surveillance capabilities utilized by the NSA, the technologies it is developing, and the gentrification its employees are causing in every city they inhabit. But our problem does not stop with Google. All of you other tech companies, all of you other developers and everyone else building the new surveillance state--We're coming for you next.”

The bus blockades have become increasingly frequent as activists protest the high-tech invasion in San Francisco, which they say has driven up the cost of living to levels that many San Franciscans cannot afford. They complain that a dramatic increase in rents, housing prices and evictions has worsened income inequality and squeezed out more middle-class families, small businesses, artists and intellectuals.

Berkeley City Councilman Gordon Wozniak, who represents the district where Levandowski lives, told Berkeleyside he was alarmed by the protest.

“It’s one thing to protest against a corporation by demonstrating beside a bus, but going after an individual at his home is a bad escalation,” he said. “Homes are supposed to be a safe place. This would be scary" for the homeowner.

Technology blog Business Insider also weighed in: "This is quickly turning into a really terrible situation. We're not sure what Google is going to do, but hopefully its employees will not have to worry about protesters harassing them at their homes."

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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