Tech community wrestles over working with government

Ken Sutton served his country as a US Army Ranger. But these days he’s chief executive of a Boston technology startup, and he is doing a lot of soul-searching about whether to do business with the US intelligence community.

“I grapple with that every day,” said Sutton, acknowledging that his company, Yobe, makes an artificial intelligence system that could be used “in some very nefarious ways.”

Sutton and other Massachusetts executives are part of a larger debate within the nation’s technology community over the ethics of letting government agencies involved in surveillance or enforcement activities use their inventions for purposes they might find objectionable. In an extraordinary show of dissent, employees of Google, Microsoft,, and have demanded their companies refuse to do business with police departments, immigration authorities, or the US military.

One Boston company, Affectiva, decided early on that it wouldn’t sell the government its technology, which uses facial recognition to detect a person’s emotional state.

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