Google is facing criticism from a former company executive, who claims the tech giant prioritizes profits over human rights.
“The company’s motto used to be ‘Don’t be evil.’ Things have changed,” Ross LaJeunesse, Google’s former head of international relations, who left the company last year, wrote in a scathing 2,175-word blog post published today.
LaJeunesse pointed to Google’s Project Dragonfly, a now-abandoned effort to re-enter the Chinese market with a censored search engine, which reportedly would’ve allowed Chinese authorities to track users’ search history. It axed Dragonfly after pushback from lawmakers and employees, but LaJeunesse claims the episode is evidence of Google’s “Greed and abuse of power.”
This story is bigger than me, and it’s bigger than Google. Greed and abuse of power have not only infected American companies like Google, they’ve infected Washington too. And it’s time to stop it. #RossForMaine https://t.co/3rshhA9CSV
— Ross LaJeunesse (@RossforMaine) January 2, 2020
LaJeunesse, who joined Google in 2008, said he tried to push the company to formally adopt a program whereby all product design elements wound undergo a review to examine their impact on human rights. “But each time I recommended a Human Rights Program, senior executives came up with an excuse to say no,” he claimed.
According to LaJeunesse, the justifications included fear of legal liabilities and wanting to keep the issue solely within the oversight of individual product teams. But he argues Google essentially “sidelined” him from the Dragonfly project.
“I then realized that the company had never intended to incorporate human rights principles into its business and product decisions,” he added. “Just when Google needed to double down on a commitment to human rights, it decided to instead chase bigger profits and an even higher stock price.”
LaJeunesse also claims Google has a toxic workplace culture, citing some cringeworthy examples: “Senior colleagues bullied and screamed at young women, causing them to cry at their desks. At an all-hands meeting, my boss said, ‘Now you Asians come to the microphone too. I know you don’t like to ask questions,'” he claimed.
In November 2018, thousands of company workers held a walkout over the same issue.
LaJeunesse is now running in the Democratic primary for US Senate in Maine; the winner will go up against long-time Republican Sen. Susan Collins. So today’s blog post may give him a publicity boost, while also answering questions about his work at Google. If elected to office, LaJeunesse indicates he’ll try to regulate today’s largest tech companies.
“The role of these companies in our daily lives, from how we run our elections to how we entertain and educate our children, is just too great to leave in the hands of executives who are accountable only to their controlling shareholders,” he writes.
In response to his blog post, a Google spokesperson said: “We have an unwavering commitment to supporting human rights organizations and efforts.” The spokesperson also disputed LaJeunesse’s allegation that Google tried to push him out of the company following a staffing reorganization.
“As part of this reorganization, Ross was offered a new position at the exact same level and compensation, which he declined to accept. We wish Ross all the best with his political ambitions,” Google added.