Former Employees Say They Were Fired from Google for Speaking Up. Here’s Why They’re Suing.
- Google fired four employees for allegedly accessing sensitive information and leaking it to the press.
- Tuesday, those employees denied the claims they had leaked confidential information and sued Google for “unfair labor practices,” alleging the tech company had fired them in retaliation for organizing workers’ movements.
- At the same time, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin stepped down from their executive positions with Google’s parent company, Alphabet.
- They then handed control of Alphabet over to current Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
Fired Employees Sue Google
Four recently-fired Google engineers announced they would be suing Google for unfair business practices.
The former employees allege they were fired in retaliation after participating in organizing several workplace movements within the company.
“We spoke up when we saw Google making unethical business decisions that create a workplace that is harmful to us and our colleagues,” the four said in a joint Medium statement. “We participated in legally protected labor organizing, fighting to improve workplace conditions for all Google workers. We joined together to hold Google accountable for the impact on our workplace of its business decisions, policies, and practices on a range of topics.”
Google fired the engineers on Nov. 25 for allegedly accessing sensitive information and then leaking that information to the press. Google then reportedly sent an email to employees titled “Securing our data,” which said those four employees had accessed data that was “outside the scope of their jobs.”
In their Medium post, the former employees denied that they had leaked any sensitive information.
“This is flatly untrue,” they said, “and in the privacy of our meetings with HR and Google’s internal investigations team, the company acknowledged this.”
“It’s about trying to stop all workplace organizing,” they added. “Google wants to send a message to everyone: if you dare to engage in protected labor organizing, you will be punished.”
In an interview with BuzzFeed News, those employees elaborated, saying they had accessed information outside of the scope of their jobs, but they also claimed that accessing such information was not against Google policy and that it was available to anyone in the company.
Notably, some of that information included documents relating to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.
“Viewing of others’ calendars, documents, etc., is a longstanding tradition at Google, very intentionally,” one of the employees told BuzzFeed News, “and Google provides users, including employees, a wide range of access control features to limit things when needed.”
All four former employees have also denied the claim that they leaked such information to the press, with one of the employees saying she went so far as to send office reminders to organizing workers to not leak information.
For its part, Google has offered some pushback, a spokesperson saying “no one has been dismissed for raising concerns or debating the company’s activities.”
“We dismissed four individuals who were engaged in intentional and often repeated violations of our longstanding data security policies, including systematically accessing and disseminating other employees’ materials and work,” that spokesperson said.
In September, Google settled a similar lawsuit alleging that it was not allowing employees to discuss workplace issues. While it didn’t admit to any wrongdoing, it did have to affirm that employees can discuss work-related issues.
Google Fires Four Employees
Prior to the firing, two of the engineers were placed on administrative leave.
On Nov. 22, more than 200 people protested outside of Google’s office in San Francisco to reinstate those employees; however, that pressure ultimately proved not to be enough.
After those employees were fired, some workers claimed they had been fired because of their roles in organizing movements.
“With these firings, Google is ramping up its illegal retaliation,” a group of organizing workers said in a statement. “This is classic union busting dressed up in tech industry jargon, and we won’t stand for it.”
Those four employees had all been involved in various movements, including protesting Google’s work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to provide a cloud network and Google’s work with the Pentagon to use A.I. to interpret videos that could be used for drone strikes.
They also protested Google’s creation of Dragonfly, a search engine meant to comply with Chinese censorship laws. Google then terminated work on Dragonfly in July.
Perhaps most notably, they had also been involved in last year’s mass walkout that involved more than 20,000 Google employees. The walkout occurred after news leaked that Google had paid Android creator Andy Rubin a $90 million exit package following sexual misconduct allegations.
Google Co-Founders Step Down
In other Google-related news, both heads of its parent company, Alphabet, announced they were stepping down from their positions on Tuesday.
The two executives, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, co-founded Google together. Page had served as Alphabet’s CEO while Brin had served as the company’s president.
In a joint statement, they then handed control of Alphabet to current Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
“…it’s the natural time to simplify our management structure,” they said. “We’ve never been ones to hold on to management roles when we think there’s a better way to run the company. And Alphabet and Google no longer need two CEOs and a President.”
Both Page and Brin, however, said they will still be involved as board members and shareholders.
Following this announcement, Pichai also confirmed that none of this will have any effect on Google’s daily operations.
“I want to be clear that this transition won’t affect the Alphabet structure or the work we do day to day,” Pichai said in an email to employees. “I will continue to be very focused on Google and the deep work we’re doing to push the boundaries of computing and build a more helpful Google for everyone.”
The news of the transfer of power was widely considered not too surprising as both Page and Brin have largely stayed out of the spotlight after restructuring Google in 2015.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (The Verge) (CNN)
Schools Across the U.S. Cancel Classes Friday Over Unverified TikTok Threat
Officials in multiple states said they haven’t found any credible threats but are taking additional precautions out of an abundance of safety.
Schools in no fewer than 10 states either canceled classes or increased their police presence on Friday after a series of TikToks warned of imminent shooting and bombs threats.
Despite that, officials said they found little evidence to suggest the threats are credible. It’s possible no real threat was actually ever made as it’s unclear if the supposed threats originated on TikTok, another social media platform, or elsewhere.
“We handle even rumored threats with utmost seriousness, which is why we’re working with law enforcement to look into warnings about potential violence at schools even though we have not found evidence of such threats originating or spreading via TikTok,” TikTok’s Communications team tweeted Thursday afternoon.
Still, given the uptick of school shootings in the U.S. in recent years, many school districts across the country decided to respond to the rumors. According to The Verge, some districts in California, Minnesota, Missouri, and Texas shut down Friday.
“Based on law enforcement interviews, Little Falls Community Schools was specifically identified in a TikTok post related to this threat,” one school district in Minnesota said in a letter Thursday. “In conversations with local law enforcement, the origins of this threat remain unknown. Therefore, school throughout the district is canceled tomorrow, Friday, December 17.”
In Gilroy, California, one high school that closed its doors Friday said it would reschedule final exams that were expected to take place the same day to January.
According to the Associated Press, several other districts in Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Montana, New York, and Pennsylvania stationed more police officers at their schools Friday.
Viral Misinformation or Legitimate Warnings?
As The Verge notes, “The reports of threats on TikTok may be self-perpetuating.”
For example, many of the videos online may have been created in response to initial warnings as more people hopped onto the trend. Amid school cancellations, videos have continued to sprout up — many awash with both rumors and factual information.
“I’m scared off my ass, what do I do???” one TikTok user said in a now-deleted video, according to People.
“The post is vague and not directed at a specific school, and is circulating around school districts across the country,” Chicago Public Schools said in a letter, though it did not identify any specific post. “Please do not re-share any suspicious or concerning posts on social media.”
According to Dr. Amy Klinger, the director of programs for the nonprofit Educator’s School Safety Network, “This is not 2021 phenomenon.”
Instead, she told The Today Show that her network has been tracking school shooting threats since 2013, and she noted that in recent years, they’ve become more prominent on social media.
“It’s not just somebody in a classroom of 15 people hearing someone make a threat,” she said. “It’s 15,000 people on social media, because it gets passed around and it becomes larger and larger and larger.”
See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Associated Press) (People)
Jake Paul Says He “Can’t Get Cancelled” as a Boxer
The controversial YouTuber opened up about what it has been like to go from online fame to professional boxing.
The New Yorker Profiles Jake Paul
YouTuber and boxer Jake Paul talked about his career switch, reputation, and cancel culture in a profile published Monday in The New Yorker.
While Paul rose to fame as the Internet’s troublemaker, he now spends most of his time in the ring. He told the outlet that one difference between YouTube and boxing is that his often controversial reputation lends better to his new career.
“One thing that is great about being a fighter is, like, you can’t get cancelled,” Paul said. The profile noted that the sport often rewards and even encourages some degree of bad behavior.
“I’m not a saint,” Paul later continued. “I’m also not a bad guy, but I can very easily play the role.”
Paul also said the other difference between his time online and his time in boxing is the level of work. While he says he trains hard, he confessed that there was something more challenging about making regular YouTube content.
“Being an influencer was almost harder than being a boxer,” he told The New Yorker. “You wake up in the morning and you’re, like, Damn, I have to create fifteen minutes of amazing content, and I have twelve hours of sunlight.”
Jake Paul Vs. Tommy Fury
The New Yorker profile came just after it was announced over the weekend Paul will be fighting boxer Tommy Fury in an 8-round cruiserweight fight on Showtime in December.
“It’s time to kiss ur last name and ur family’s boxing legacy goodbye,” Paul tweeted. “DEC 18th I’m changing this wankers name to Tommy Fumbles and celebrating with Tom Brady.”
Both Paul and Fury are undefeated, according to ESPN. Like Paul, Fury has found fame outside of the sport. He has become a reality TV star in the U.K. after appearing on the hit show “Love Island.”
See what others are saying: (The New Yorker) (Dexerto) (ESPN)
Hackers Hit Twitch Again, This Time Replacing Backgrounds With Image of Jeff Bezos
The hack appears to be a form of trolling, though it’s possible that the infiltrators were able to uncover a security flaw while reviewing Twitch’s newly-leaked source code.
Hackers targeted Twitch for a second time this week, but rather than leaking sensitive information, the infiltrators chose to deface the platform on Friday by swapping multiple background images with a photo of former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
According to those who saw the replaced images firsthand, the hack appears to have mostly — and possibly only — affected game directory headers. Though the incident appears to be nothing more than a surface-level prank, as Amazon owns Twitch, it could potentially signal greater security flaws.
For example, it’s possible the hackers could have used leaked internal security data from earlier this week to discover a network vulnerability and sneak into the platform.
The latest jab at the platforms came after Twitch assured its users it has seen “no indication” that their login credentials were stolen during the first hack. Still, concerns have remained regarding the potential for others to now spot cracks in Twitch’s security systems.
It’s also possible the Bezos hack resulted from what’s known as “cache poisoning,” which, in this case, would refer to a more limited form of hacking that allowed the infiltrators to manipulate similar images all at once. If true, the hackers likely would not have been able to access Twitch’s back end.
The photo changes only lasted several hours before being returned to their previous conditions.
First Twitch Hack
Despite suspicions and concerns, it’s unclear whether the Bezos hack is related to the major leak of Twitch’s internal data that was posted to 4chan on Wednesday.
That leak exposed Twitch’s full source code — including its security tools — as well as data on how much Twitch has individually paid every single streamer on the platform since August 2019.
It also revealed Amazon’s at least partially developed plans for a cloud-based gaming library, codenamed Vapor, which would directly compete with the massively popular library known as Steam.
Even though Twitch has said its login credentials appear to be secure, it announced Thursday that it has reset all stream keys “out of an abundance of caution.” Users are still being urged to change their passwords and update or implement two-factor authentication if they haven’t already.