Two employee activists at Google say they have been retaliated against for helping to organize a walkout among thousands of Google workers in November, and are planning a “town hall” meeting on Friday for others to discuss alleged instances of retaliation.
In a message posted to many internal Google mailing lists Monday, Meredith Whittaker, who leads Google’s Open Research, said that after the company disbanded its external AI ethics council on April 4, she was told that her role would be “changed dramatically.” Whittaker said she was told that, in order to stay at the company, she would have to “abandon” her work on AI ethics and her role at AI Now Institute, a research center she co-founded at New York University.
Claire Stapleton, another walkout organizer and a 12-year veteran of the company, said in the email that two months after the protest she was told she would be demoted from her role as marketing manager at YouTube and lose half her reports. After escalating the issue to human resources, she said she faced further retaliation. “My manager started ignoring me, my work was given to other people, and I was told to go on medical leave, even though I’m not sick,” Stapleton wrote. After she hired a lawyer, the company conducted an investigation and seemed to reverse her demotion. “While my work has been restored, the environment remains hostile and I consider quitting nearly every day,” she wrote.
The only thing that’s surprising about this is that anybody should be surprised. Google is a corporation, and therefore a sociopathic entity that does only what’s in its interests. And having a senior AI researcher co-found an independent institute that is doing good work interrogating the ethical basis of AI is definitely NOT in the company’s interests.
Footnote: Famously, Google’s unofficial motto was “don’t be evil.” But that’s over, according to the code of conduct that the company distributes to its employees. According to Gizmodo, archives hosted by the Wayback Machine show that the phrase was removed sometime in late April or early May 2018.