A recently published report by Wired gives an insight into the turmoil within tech giant Google over the past three years.
A recent report from Wired titled “Three Years of Misery Inside Google, The Happiest Company in Tech,” gives an insight into the internal turmoil within tech giant Google over the course of the past three years. The first issues at the firm in that period began following President Donald Trump’s travel ban on citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Google employees staged mass protests at company campuses and appeared to have the full support of company executives — but that was apparently not the whole story.
Tensions at the firm continued to rise, with the leaking of former Google engineer James Damore’s diversity memo acting as a catalyst for further inner turmoil. The Wired report notes that the leak of internal message board posts by Google employees who expressed disdain for conservatives, President Trump, and Damore himself caused employees to worry that they were being “targeted” by the “alt-right.”
More leaks from inside Google fed the frenzy. Screenshots of conversations among Google employees on internal social networks, some dating back to 2015, appeared on Breitbart. Meanwhile, on a pro-Trump subreddit, a collage appeared that showed the full names, profile pictures, and Twitter bios of eight Google employees, most of them queer, transgender, or people of color. Fong-Jones was one of them. Each bio featured phrases that would make the employees instant targets for online harassment: “polyamorous queer autistic trans lesbian,” “just another gay communist site reliability engineer,” or, in Fong-Jones’ case, “Trans and queer as fuck.” Two days after Damore was fired, Milo Yiannopoulos, the former tech editor at Breitbart, shared the Reddit collage image with 2 million Facebook followers. “Look at who works for Google, it all makes sense now,” he wrote—as if these eight employees had been the ones who made the decision to ax Damore.
For the employees who were being targeted, the leaks were terrifying. How many of their coworkers were feeding material to the alt-right? How many more leaks were coming? And what was their employer going to do to protect them?
The removal of Kay Cole James, the president of the Heritage Foundation, from Google’s AI ethics council also appeared to be another major point of contention within the firm. Wired writes:
That spring, many of Google’s efforts to stave off scrutiny seemed to hasten its arrival. In March, Google announced that it had formed an AI ethics council composed of external advisers. It included Kay Coles James, president of the Heritage Foundation, who lacked any discernible expertise in artificial intelligence and who had recently expressed anti-trans and anti-immigrant views. Some employees were appalled; an internal petition to remove James quickly gained 2,500 signatures. Breitbart and the Daily Caller posted the names of petition organizers, including Whittaker, and leaked internal messages from a mailing list. One ethics council member quit in the midst of the uproar. When Google learned that another member was planning on defecting, the company disbanded the council—nine days after it launched. To the outside world, it looked as if Google had capitulated to employee protests. Conservative critics descended. In The Washington Post, James said Google was not upholding its bargain with the right. “How can Google now expect conservatives to defend it against anti-business policies from the left that might threaten its very existence?” she asked.
While Whittaker was helping to lead the charge against the ethics council, she continued to tussle with management over her job. Stapleton, who had been told multiple times that she was a “rising leader” in YouTube marketing, says she was also struggling to hold on to the responsibilities she’d held before the walkout. When the two women heard that a third organizer had also been denied a transfer, they posted an open letter on the walkout mailing list on a Monday in late April, reporting to their coworkers that Google was retaliating against them. They invited their colleagues to fight back against retaliation at an employee town hall meeting that Friday, to be livestreamed at Google offices around the globe.
That week, managers emailed the entire marketing and cloud departments, denying the women’s claims. On the morning of the town hall, Lorraine Twohill, the head of marketing at Google, also sent a department-wide email saying Stapleton’s claims were false. “Over the last several weeks, I have spent a lot of time talking to everyone involved, trying to understand and empathize with the situation,” she wrote. Stapleton says Twohill never asked her about the incidents surrounding her claims of retaliation.
Read the full report in Wired Magazine here.