Google said it has fired an employee for leaking staffer names and personal details to the media and placed two others on leave for allegedly violating company policies, actions that come amid escalating tensions between management and employees.
A Google spokeswoman said the company is investigating the employees who were placed on leave. One of them had searched for and shared confidential documents outside the scope of their job, while the other tracked the individual calendars of staff working in the community platforms, human resources, and communications teams, she said. The tracking had made the staff in those departments feel unsafe, the spokeswoman said.
Google didn’t identify the employee who was fired, or the staffers placed on leave.
The company’s statement came after Bloomberg News inquired about two employees being placed on leave who had participated in labour-related activism at Google. The suspensions have been a hot topic of discussion at the company in the last week, stoking anger among some workers and prompting claims that Google is punishing people who have taken a stand against management, according to three employees familiar with the matter. The suspended workers were based in the US, two of the employees said.
The development is the latest sign of disharmony at Alphabet Inc’s Google and follows a tumultuous month in which some workers accused managers of attempting to censor internal discussions and shut down meetings about labour rights. At least some of the tensions stem from new community guidelines Google introduced in August that were intended to curb incivility in the workplace.
The employees familiar with the matter said they were told that one of the people on leave is being punished for accessing company documents that were at the centre of a recent controversy.
The documents concerned a mandatory tool that was recently installed on the Google Chrome browser on workers’ computers, the employees said. In October, some Google employees raised concerns that the Chrome extension was an internal surveillance tool designed to monitor their attempts to organise protests. It would automatically report staffers who create a calendar event with more than 10 rooms or 100 participants, according to an employee memo that outlined concerns about the tool. A Google representative said the extension was merely an attempt to reduce calendar spam.
The Google spokeswoman said no one was put on leave for accessing or opening a single need-to-know document; instead, she said one person was put on leave for allegedly searching for, accessing and sharing a wide range of company documents.
On an internal Google message board, some staffers suggested that the suspensions represented a death knell for the culture of openness that historically defined the company’s workplace.
"As a company we’ve prided ourselves on transparency and information-sharing,” wrote one employee, in a post reviewed by Bloomberg News. "As I was told as a noogler [new Google employee], one of the big benefits of Google is that you can see what everyone else is working on, and how it all fits together. But I guess we’ve abandoned that now. And that both disappoints and terrifies me.”
In the past, one of the employees said, employees could review internal documents for virtually any project underway within the company. In recent years, however, more projects have become closed off and accessible only to smaller groups on a "need-to-know” basis, the employee said.
Earlier this year, following a series of leaks to the media, Google executives tightened their grip. They shut down thousands of contractors’ access to company documents, citing security concerns. Google’s senior managers, meanwhile, warned employees not to access or share certain documents.
In a memo to employees in early May, Kent Walker, senior vice president of global affairs, warned that it was considered "a violation of our policies to improperly access, copy, or share confidential or need-to-know information, whether or not it is explicitly marked”. Walker added that the company had "fired people who violated our data policies”, according to the memo, which was previously reported by BuzzFeed News.
The spokeswoman said the company earlier this year sent employees a reminder of long-standing data classification and security policies.
In the last 18 months or so, a divide has grown between Google’s management and rank-and-file employees, who have become increasingly politicised. Employees have protested leadership’s handling of sexual harassment complaints and launched internal campaigns against some Google projects, including a censored search engine in China and a contract with the Pentagon to analyse drone footage. Earlier this month, more than 1,000 employees called on the company to cancel deals with oil and gas companies.
As news of the suspensions spread through Google last week, many employees responded by posting satirical memes to Memegen, an internal photo messaging board.
In one meme, an employee posted the Google logo alongside a reinterpretation of the company’s corporate mission statement. "Organise the world’s information,” it said, "and make it accessible on a need-to-know basis.” – Bloomberg
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