Published on the 20/11/2019 | Written by Jonathan Cotton
Beset by scandals, leaks and employee discontent, Google scales back the transparency…
Google appears to be entering a new, less transparent era with the radical retoolinging of its trademark company-wide town hall meetings, following a series of embarrassing leaks.
In a company-wide email to staff (also leaked), CEO Sundar Pichai announced that the meetings, colloquially known as ‘TGIF’, will now be monthly. And rather than an open forum, all-questions-welcomed affair, the new events will focus exclusively on ‘business and strategy’.
“Our scale is challenging us to evolve,” says Pichai in the email. “TGIF has traditionally provided a place to come together, share progress and ask questions, but it’s not working in its current form.
There’s even a dedicated email address for employees to inform on other employees.
“We’re unfortunately seeing a coordinated effort to share our conversations outside of the company after every TGIF. I know this is new information to many of you, and it has affected our ability to use TGIF as a forum for candid conversations on important topics.
“TGIF will become a monthly meeting focused on product and business strategy, with Q&A on the topics being discussed.”
The shift comes after a string of embarrassing leaks for Google, most notably, the revelations around ‘Project Nightingale’, a deal between Google and Ascension (a large US healthcare provider) that would see the medical data of 50 million Americans transferred from the non-profit to the search engine giant.
According to the whistleblower, around 10 million files, including lab results, doctor diagnoses and hospitalisation data, have already been transferred – without either doctor or patient consent – and the data transferred is openly accessible to around 150 Google staff.
In response, Google has released a statement confirming that ‘a limited number’ of Google staff do, in fact, have access to the unredacted data, but is attempting to assuage fears that it intends to combine the information with its own vast cache of user-data.
“We are building tools that a single customer (eg, a hospital or primary care group) can use with their own patients’ data,” says the company. “The data is siloed, access controlled and auditable. We do not combine data across partners, and we would not be allowed to under our agreements or the law.”
Google’s decision to pare back it’s Friday get-together doesn’t come as a huge surprise, and is part of a larger movement for the company to place new boundaries on it’s formerly celebrated open culture. Earlier this year the company revoked thousands of contractor’s access to internal documents and restricted access to several projects to a ‘need-to-know’ basis.
One staff member has recently been fired after being caught sharing information with the media and two others have been suspended, with the search engine giant even setting up a dedicated email address for employees to inform on other employees suspected of sharing sensitive company information with the media.
None of which is popular with employees. They’ve accused Google of taking unreasonably aggressive action against employee dissent, including internal surveillance, attempted censorship of internal communication tools and trying to disrupt meetings focused on worker rights.
Other points of contention include the hiring of Miles Taylor, formerly of the Department of Homeland Security and vocal supporter of US president Trump’s Muslim travel ban, resignations over Google’s inking of a deal with the US department of Defence, and with last November’s a walkout of 20,000 employees – protesting the search engine giant’s response, or lack thereof to alleged cases of sexual assault – it appears that tensions between staff and management are reaching boiling point at Mountain View.