As part of our ongoing interview series with Google insiders, Breitbart Tech interviewed a former Google employee who warned the danger to ordinary users if authoritarian leftists gained more power and influence at the company.
The former employee (alias “Beckett”) warned that if the company continues along its current authoritarian route, as exposed by the firing of viewpoint diversity advocate James Damore, the personal data of ordinary users would be put at risk.
“Google has a lot of information about their users, and they control access to a lot of data that those users rely on. What would happen if you were suddenly locked out of your email, your YouTube and Google Play accounts, your archived photos, and all the data stored on your phone?”
“It’s hard enough to recover your account when it’s been frozen accidentally — people have actually traveled to Mountain View (California) and begged Google’s receptionists for help. Now imagine it’s been frozen on purpose.”
This was exactly what happened to Jordan Peterson, the Canadian academic and critic of identity politics. Prior to the Damore controversy, Peterson was inexplicably locked out of his Google accounts, including gmail and YouTube. (My interview with Peterson about the incident will be published in the coming week).
According to Beckett, Google already employs technology to scan its users’ email accounts for unwelcome content.
“Google already has a policy of proactively scanning user data (Drive and Gmail) for illegal pornography, by matching files and attachments against a database of known image hashes” says Beckett.
“The only thing stopping them from scanning user data for other things, like pirated music and movies, is that someone in charge of that policy has decided illegal porn is harmful enough to justify snooping on users’ data, and piracy isn’t. But that’s just one person’s opinion.”
“What if that one person were replaced by someone else who believed offensive speech was a form of violence? If they insisted it was OK to proactively scan users’ emails and comments for links to sites that promoted the wrong views, and everyone who disagreed with them was afraid to speak up…?”
Despite his warning, Beckett thinks there are still people of integrity at Google who do not want the company to slip further toward censorship and bias.
“Search is Google’s bread and butter because people trust it to be reliable and give them what they’re looking for. Whatever editorial decisions might go into other products wouldn’t affect search, we were told.”
Still, says Beckett, “like other policies at Google, that policy is only as good as the people who act on it.”
“Matt Cutts was in charge of search quality until recently, and he did a good job. Maybe his leaving will be a turning point, who knows. If so, it’ll still take a while for all the people who joined under him and believe in honest search results to leave.”
Beckett also highlights Google co-founder Sergey Brin as a potential source of sanity as the company lurches to the left.
Brin, says Beckett, “seems like a down-to-earth guy” and his “occasional off-color jokes at TGIF [Google’s weekly all-hands meetings] suggest he might have some sympathy or people who don’t want to run [everything] they say past a corporate lawyer.”
However, Beckett suggests that Brin has become disengaged from the company’s day-to-day functions.
“I fear he doesn’t give enough thought to what’s going on across the company anymore.”
Speaking about the atmosphere of fear and repression highlighted by Damore’s viewpoint diversity memo, Beckett agrees that the problem is severe. He even quotes a female co-worker who said the very policies designed to help her and other “marginalized” groups made her feel less secure.
“Diversity efforts scare me, which is sad because they used to excite me. I can’t find it in my heart to recruit any more starry-eyed young women to tech companies. Our initiatives purport to ease the particular hardships for women and minority groups in tech, such as myself, but so far I have only received 1) additional stress 2) additional fear about speaking up with my experiences and opinions. … I’m afraid that people have only been nice to me so far because they make assumptions about my opinions on certain issues, and have no idea what my real thoughts are.”
Beckett recounts how an internal group of pro-free speech employees were shut down by their internal opponents, particularly Burcu Dogan, currently a software engineer at the company’s Mountain View headquarters.
“Someone set up a mailing list called “freespeech” to discuss the problem that would later be called the “ideological echo chamber.” Immediately, it became the butt of jokes, the same lazy “hurr hurr freeze peach” snickering you’d expect from true believers on Twitter.”
“But one person, Burcu Dogan, decided to go further and flood the group with spam. After her posts were deleted and she was banned, she made up a story about how the group “promotes hate speech and violence against people” and demanded that Google investigate who was running it.”
“Outside that group, Burcu wrote posts describing the people who spoke up against arbitrary firings as “men debating about false accusations and their legal implications” who were consumed by “daily masturbation about your manly problems… This is how your brain works … I don’t feel safe at Google anymore.”
Within months, the owners of that group were fired or forced out. She’s still there. I guess she was safe after all.”
Once Google managers decide they want to purge a “wrong-thinker,” says Beckett, they use a firing process that enables them “without exposing their real – political – reasons for doing so.
“Once the company has decided they don’t want someone around, the usual way to get rid of them is to put them on a PIP (“performance improvement plan”), which highlights areas where they aren’t living up to the formal job expectations for their position and sets specific goals for them to achieve.”
“The expectations are written vaguely enough in the first place that a manager can always come up with an argument that someone isn’t quite meeting them — if those expectations were enforced to the letter, almost everyone would be fired after their first review.”
“The whole process takes 2-3 months, and it’s basically just a way to generate a paper trail to guard against wrongful termination suits. If someone claims they were fired for discriminatory reasons, Google can point to the PIP as evidence that they weren’t.”
However, Beckett says Google’s management slipped up in the case of Damore, who was fired too quickly.
“Without a PIP, if he claims he was fired as retaliation for his actions that are protected by state and federal labor laws, all Google can do is point to their code of conduct and admit that it violates those same labor laws.”
Beckett is not optimistic about the potential for a competitor to Google. He points out that Voat, Reddit’s free-speech alternative, failed to kill off the original. He says the only real option to tackle a company of Google’s size and power is for the legal and political system to take action.
“There aren’t enough people willing to switch over this,” he says.
One person who could help, says Beckett, is President Trump.
“I’m not a big fan of our current president, but if anyone’s willing to do what it takes to get the EEOC and NLRB to take this kind of discrimination seriously, it’s probably him. If he can do that and get results, I bet he’d win a lot of new, grudging supporters in Silicon Valley.”
“I’m hopeful about lawsuits and government intervention. Firing Damore almost certainly violated state and federal labor laws. But there’ll have to be a clear message from the government about how they can comply.”
This article is part of the “Rebels of Google” series. Read the rest of the series here.