In May 2018, Google faced a series of public resignations and scandals over a secret internal project to supply AI tools to the Pentagon’s drone warfare project; then, in August 2018, scandal hit again with the news that Google was secretly developing a censoring, surveilling Chinese search-tool; then came the news that the company had secretly paid Android founder Andy Rubin $90m to quietly leave the company after credible accusations of sexual abuse and assault.
We’ve covered the story as it unfolded, and others have attempted to trace its trajectory, but now, Wired‘s Nitasha Tiku has written a massive, deeply reported recap of the entire affair, up to and including the departures of key organizers like Meredith Whittaker and Celie O’Neil-Hart, who say they were targeted for retaliation by the company for their activism.
Tiku shows how Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” motto was a key advantage when it came to recruiting top engineering talent in one of history’s tightest labor-markets. She also describes how far-right “provocateurs” like Kevin Cernekee and James Damore were able to use “the paradox of tolerance” to play the system, while teaming up with Trumpist media outlets to stoke outrage at the idea that banning the circulation of memos detailing eugenic theories about the natural role of women is “anti-conservative bias.”
Finally, she shows how gender discrimination was the hardest issue for Google to cope with: racist remarks and conduct were met with swift reprisal, but discrimination against women, sexual harassment and sexual assault were swept under the rug.
One part I found fascinating was the full story of Liz Fong-Jones’s activism, which we covered here, but which was lower-profile (though not less important) than other figures in the movement.
On Monday morning, Google’s top management finally met to discuss what to do about Damore. The room, according to reporting by Recode, was split. Half the executives believed Damore shouldn’t be fired. Then YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and head of communications Jessica Powell urged their colleagues to consider how they would have reacted if Damore had applied the same arguments to race, rather than gender. That persuaded them: The engineer had to go. In a note to employees, Pichai said he was firing Damore for perpetuating gender stereotypes.
In his message, Pichai tried to assure the left without alienating the right. “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK,” he wrote. “At the same time, there are co-workers who are questioning whether they can safely express their views in the workplace (especially those with a minority viewpoint). They too feel under threat, and that is also not OK. People must feel free to express dissent.” Then he promised to fly back to the Bay Area for a TGIF meeting on Thursday where the employees could discuss the matter.
Damore’s termination set off a predictable onslaught of negative coverage from the right. Tucker Carlson, Ann Coulter, and Ben Shapiro all bashed Google; New York Times columnist David Brooks called for Pichai to resign. Damore gave his first interviews to YouTubers Jordan Peterson and Stefan Molyneux, the latter of whom is a proponent of “race realism.” The alt-right took this as an endorsement and started churning out memes of Damore, his head on Martin Luther’s body, nailing his memo to the door of a church.
Three Years of Misery Inside Google, the Happiest Company in Tech [Nitasha Tiku/Wired]
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