Google, Insubordination, and Policies

June 10, 2018

Are we reading this right? It almost seems as if this campaign is very directly urging certain workers to be insubordinate; Recode reports, “Google Employees Are Being Targeted With This Ad Urging Them To Consider Their Role In Making Search Rankings More Fair.” The group behind the social-media ads is called Focus on the User, and is spearheaded, significantly, buy Yelp and TripAdvisor. The video, promoted on social media, very specifically targets Google employees and their own personal ethics on the matter of fairness in search rankings. Reporter Shirin Ghaffary writes:

“The video claims that Google gives ‘preferential treatment to some of its own content’ such as local listings. (Thus the interest from Yelp and TripAdvisor.) The argument: Instead of Google showing the most relevant results, the company sidesteps its own algorithm to show you only ‘what Google wants you see’ — which is often Google’s own content. It’s an issue that Yelp has taken up publicly with the search giant for years; it recently filed a complaint with the EU’s antitrust watchdog. Google, though, is still Google: Massive, profitable and growing. Google has publicly denied similar claims. But the video calls for Google employees to ‘share this message and discuss it with your colleagues’ — and to bring it up at all-hands meetings.”

This is an interesting approach; we wonder if it will work. Ghaffary points to recent employee protest and even resignations in the face of Google’s military-related endeavors, so perhaps this appeal to the underlings will make some difference.

We also found interesting two developments for the online ad giant.

First, the company issued policies that seem to assure anyone interested about Google and the military. “In Wake of Project Maven Backlash, Google Unveils New AI Policies,” I learned:

In a blog post, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the company won’t stop working with the military entirely: It will still potentially work with the armed forces on areas including cybersecurity, recruitment and training, veterans’ healthcare and search and rescue. Google is widely seen as a potential contender for a massive contract to move Defense Department systems to cloud servers.

So we are or we aren’t?

The second item is that Google does quite a bit of government work. The details appear in “The Ties between Silicon Valley and the Military Run Deep.” For a “real” journalism outfit, I found the omission of Google’s team up with In-Q-Tel to help fund Recorded Future interesting.

Net net: What’s true? What’s a policy? What’s government work?

Answer: Money, influence, and a way to capture business which will block competitors like Amazon, IBM, Microsoft, and many others from extending their technology in agencies struggling to tap into simpler, more effective technologies.

The problem is that no one wants to just be up front about the revenue potential, the competitive stakes on the table, and the influence certain projects deliver.

Ever wonder who designed the US Navy? Worth checking out to understand how contracts and projects can cascade through the decades and pose competitive barriers for many other firms.

Yep, some companies listen to their employees and then move forward. Like an aircraft carrier. Do you have the answer to the Navy question in hand?

Cynthia Murrell, June 10, 2018

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