Former Employee Sues Google, Claims It Maintained an Internal Spy Network That Encouraged Workers to Snitch on Each Other

Yves here. From a legal standpoint, the arguments that Google is making in its defense in an employee lawsuit are lame. Of course, it could be saving its real case for the court. Oddly, the summary below omits a key issue as to why Google’s surveillance and secrecy policies are problematic. From the underlying story at Information:

The lawsuit alleges that Google warns employees to not put into writing concerns about potential illegal activity within Google, even to the company’s own attorneys, because the disclosures could fall into the hands of regulators and law enforcement. It also alleges that confidentiality provisions include a prohibition on employees writing “a novel about someone working at a tech company in Silicon Valley,” without Google signing off on the final draft.

Among other things, this makes it impossible for Google to have any sort of internal whistleblower program, even when most are strictly cosmetic. Most corporate governance experts deem them to be necessary as a liability shield for management. Moreover, these agreements also violate the SEC’s whistleblower rules, which bar companies from hindering employees contacting agency officials regarding suspected abuses. Google’s top brass appear convinced that their internal code of omerta plus their connections means that they can dispense with that sort of thing.

Google’s internal non-disclosure agreements apparently didn’t contain standard “outs,” the most important being that the signer can disclose information when compelled to by judicial decree, as long as they inform the company first and give them the opportunity to contest the order.

I hope California readers will tell me about the reputation of the firm suing Google. The claim looks to be spare (a good sign) and well argued. Even though the usual rule of thumb with employee suits is that the big companies have a huge advantage by being able to hire better counsel, Google looks to have overreached to such a remarkable degree that the employee may well prevail. It would also help if outside parties take interest and provide amicus briefs on behalf of the plaintiff.

By Michael Arria, an associate editor at AlterNet and AlterNet’s labor editor. Follow @MichaelArria on Twitter. Originally published at Alternet

Tech news site the Information reports that a former Google employee is suing the company, claiming it maintained an internal spying program that encouraged workers to rat each other out.

The lawsuit was filed by a former product manager who claims that the alleged program violates California labor law. The same person filed a National Labor Relations Board complaint against Google and its sister firm Nest this June. The NLRB complaint alleged that the employee was terminated after making a social media post that was critical of the company. The allegation also contends that the companies illegally monitored workers’ electronic devices to prevent them from airing criticisms of Google.

The lawsuit points out that employees should be able to discuss workplace conditions without fearing retaliatory action.

Google has called the lawsuit “baseless.” The Information piece quotes a statement from the company:

We’re very committed to an open internal culture, which means we frequently share with employees details of product launches and confidential business information. Transparency is a huge part of our culture. Our employee confidentiality requirements are designed to protect proprietary business information, while not preventing employees from disclosing information about terms and conditions of employment, or workplace concerns.

If the lawsuit ends up being successful, it could be extremely expensive for Google. The Information report breaks down the math:

Google could be fined up to $100 for each of the 12 alleged violations in the suit, multiplied by 65,000 employees. If an allegedly unlawful policy lasted for more than one pay period, the fine doubles to $200 per pay period, per employee, for up to a year. If ‘Doe’ prevails on every allegation in the lawsuit, the maximum fine would be $3.8 billion, with about $14,600 going to each Google employee.

Read the entire article at the Information’s website.

Print Friendly
Tweet about this on TwitterDigg thisShare on Reddit0Share on StumbleUpon0Share on Facebook0Share on LinkedIn3Share on Google+0Buffer this pageEmail this to someone

25 comments

    1. voteforno6

      Google was one of the companies involved in wage suppression in Silicon Valley…I guess they decided to go evil quite a while ago.

    2. polecat

      HEY GOOgle … you need to get close .. closer … Ok that’s good … ready ? …….. (((((F#CK YOU))))) …….

      Suck THAT in your AI funnel and choke !

    3. NotSoSure

      You guys are just not getting it. When Google says : “Don’t do/be evil”, they are telling YOU and everybody else to not do it because EVIL pays.

  1. Bill Smith

    “Google’s internal non-disclosure agreements apparently didn’t contain standard “outs,” the most important being that the signer can disclose information when compelled to by judicial decree”

    How does this matter? A judicial order would override any such non-disclosure agreement, right?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Many people who were not legally sophisticated would not understand that. And Google could use the excuse that they’d violated an unenforceable non-disclosure agreement to fire them. Google is basically pressuring employees to defy courts and regulators.

  2. Teddy

    Company with business model based entirely around mass surveillance enforces a “transparency” (just another word for it) culture among its employees? Who could’ve knew… I’m really interested how the lawsuit works out.

    On an unrelated note: am I the only one to experience difficulties with accessing NC? Today I (again) got the 503 error and could read only the backup version, is there some hostile activity by third parties or is the problem on my side?

        1. Waldenpond

          Same. I am getting 12/26 front page and reached the site by hitting the now current comments.

    1. msmolly

      NC was “down” for me since I first tried to visit at about 9:00 a.m. (EST) so I was dreading a DDoS attack and hoping instead for a routine technical glitch.

    2. Lambert Strether

      The issues should be resolved now, hopefully.

      We did an upgrade over the weekend, and there were a few problems that cropped up. We don’t have the capacity to test under load.

  3. Scott

    I made a short movie about my interactions with Google, or attempted interaction anyway. It is somewhere amongst the 1300 shows on my youtube channel Transcendian.
    If you believe you have a business concept appropriate to pitch to Google, there is a Business Plan Process.
    The profoundly ridiculous Feature of that; That proves a insular hypocritical Google ideal, is that once you write it off to them, they take claim of it. Period.
    What good is that?
    Google as so many of the US founded corporations is one mythical foundational ideation, and then a degraded reality.
    It is a feature of the international corporate way where what is ours is ours, and then what is yours is ours.
    In closing I must say that Youtube is a Grand contribution to our mental landscape as it is as close to UNTV as we really have in light of the educational videos where people share how to do things for no reason but generosity of spirit.
    We are at our best when we seek to teach each other how to live in this physical life.
    We are at our worst when we steal from each other, for that is a feature of barbarism.

    1. AmicusLong

      I believe the Google policy of taking claim to submitted ideas is fairly standard. Actually, my Dad told me this when I was about 10 years old (I’m over 50 now), and I will admit that I never verified this. Anyway, according to Pops back in the early 70s, it guards against the scenario where a company independently comes up with an idea that someone happens to submit.

  4. der

    The Plaintiff “Doe” brings the lawsuit it seems mostly for being falsely indentified as a leaker to 65,000 Google employees when Google’s Director of Global Investigations, Intelligence & Protective Services, Brian Katz, knew Doe wasn’t the “guilty” party. Doe feels as a public scapegoat having his reputation damaged with other “Googlers”.
    https://www.scribd.com/document/334752552/Google-v-John-Doe

    Shades of Thomas Drake, Chelsey Manning, Bill Binney?

    Googles requirement to approve any book or article? Is this in response to Antonio Garcia Martinez’s “Chaos Monkeys”? I would be interested to hear what he thinks.

    Google, like the United States, is all powerful in many ways and has no worries about being taken over by 10 Isis muhjahideens or hackers but is described by Doe as like a paranoid totalitarian state actor. It’s a wonder either one, Free Market loving USA or Alphabet, wants a sharing economy with driverless Uber (carbombs) and AirBnB safe houses.

    Why did Katz have to be such an asshole? The case as filed is an interesting read and now Google can’t do a thing about because “it’s out there”. Damage, if there is any, is done whether Doe gets anywhere with this case.

  5. JEHR

    It is too bad that monopolies like google are allowed to get so big that they fall in love with their own image.

  6. mk

    Google could be fined up to $100 for each of the 12 alleged violations in the suit, multiplied by 65,000 employees. If an allegedly unlawful policy lasted for more than one pay period, the fine doubles to $200 per pay period, per employee, for up to a year. If ‘Doe’ prevails on every allegation in the lawsuit, the maximum fine would be $3.8 billion, with about $14,600 going to each Google employee.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    A fine example of wealth redistribution…. more please!

Comments are closed.