Complaints and Protest: But the GOOG Has Been Googling for 20 Years

June 23, 2020

My goodness, we live in the Era of Complaining. The print version of the “flagship podcast” published “Google Employees Demand the Company End Police Contracts.” Let’s put this Google tie up with the US government in context.

Google was poking around the US government as early as 1999 when the chatter about indexing US government content surfaced. The company bid on the project and lost. (The US government selected the really interesting solution proposed and provided by AT&T.) Google acquired Keyhole which the CIA investment unit In-Q-Tel supported with cash. In 2005, In-Q-tel sold its shares in Google in 2005. In 2008, Google and In-Q-Tel jointly invested in Recorded Future. Along the way, Google has performed “work” for a number of US government agencies. Despite the low profile of some of these activities, Google has been in the DC game for more than 20 years. I know because I receive a snotty email about why Google should have been selected instead of the AT&T Fast Search solution.

The point is that Google employees are dazzled by their perceptual baloney. The company today is similar to the wonky outfit it was after Backrub took a break, venture money arrived, and in a moment of adulting thrashed about for a way to make money. The solution was, as you and some Googlers may not care to know, was to “be influenced” by Yahoo’s Overture/GoTo online advertising concept. Google settled the Yahoo legal complaint about this “influence’ prior to the firm’s IPO and may have coughed up about $1 billion to grease the skids for the IPO. Yahoo took the deal, and the Google morphed into the online ad outfit it is today.

But employees at Google, based on my limited exposure to these fine individuals, are generally unaware of the company’s interest in US government work, the fascinating way systems and methods arrive at the company, and the old fashioned idea that when you accept money for work you shut up or quit.

Not today.

The online word version of the “flagship podcast” states:

Employees are specifically calling out Google’s ongoing Cloud contract with the Clarkstown Police Department in New York, which was sued for allegedly conducting illegal surveillance on Black Lives Matter protestors in 2015. They’re also highlighting the company’s indirect support of a sheriff’s department in Arizona tracking people who cross the US-Mexico border.

Okay, Google is not the center of the universe when it comes to management sophistication. The company employs what I call “the high school science club management method.” The inability to keep information private and the hiring procedures which seem to favor those who want to decide what a publicly traded commercial enterprise do to earn money illustrates the challenges Google faces.

Mr. Brin’s showing up in senior elected officials’ offices wearing a T shirt and gym shoes with sparklies on them is trivial compared to the larger strategic recent issues at Google.

Not only are employees at Google complaining despite the money, the ping pong tables, and the benefits of working at home — the employees want Google to extricate and no longer pursue revenue producing activities.

Several observations:

  1. Google does and will continue to do government work despite caving to employee demands over Project Maven. Hey, good news for Anduril, right?
  2. Employees don’t know much if anything about the history of Google, the type of decisions its founders made, and efforts the company has made to obtain government work. Candidate vetting and  employee training is working well at the GOOG, don’t you think?
  3. Google management cannot contain confidential information. But the larger question is, “Why is the hiring process failing to recruit individuals who do work and make time to complain about Google’s government work. The contracts don’t just drop from the sky. Effort, sometimes years of effort, are necessary to land these projects. So quit tomorrow? Sure, good for the attorneys, not for the government customers.

Complain, complain, complain. There’s nothing like employees grousing. Why not do something other than send email? Here’s a suggestion: Quit.

What’s Google going to do about this quite embarrassing state of affairs?

Many years ago (I can’t provide details because I signed a document wittingly) a Google senior wizard told me:

Some day it will end. Until then, rock and roll.

And to what does this Gnostic phrase refer?

Google has been putting the pedal to the metal for 20 years. Now the company is operating, like a few others, without meaningful constraints, adult leadership, and much of a purpose other than making money, reducing costs, and dealing with backlashes. The push back against Google is manifesting itself in the government investigations, the talk about monopoly behavior, and the dwindling likelihood that a trip to Brussels or Strasbourg will be a holiday. It is possible that some Google attorneys will enjoy discussing the fines and legal restraints fun, but that’s a sign of changing times.

Net net: The employee grousing reflects a lack of meaningful regulation, a failure of Google leadership, and remediating hiring processes which allow the printed version of the “flagship podcast” to explain that lots of Googlers want to tear the house down. Take direct action. Resign. I am old fashioned. Employees accept job offers. Before hooking up with a publicly traded company as an employee (look up the definition, gentle Googlers with protest on your mind) — learn about the company. That’s your obligation. After accepting a job, like it or leave. Easy. I, however, think these complainers will follow the thought processes I characterize as “Casey Newtonesque.”

Wonderful. Flagship podcast. Real news, yeah!

Stephen E Arnold, June 23, 2020


One Response to “Complaints and Protest: But the GOOG Has Been Googling for 20 Years”

  1. Mike on June 23rd, 2020 7:54 am

    How Brave New Worldish. Besides these ethically-suspect endeavors being a truly minuscule part of Google revenue, besides blind obedience to the whims of middle-management whims w/r generating revenue no-matter-what the consequences to the company’s perceived goodwill is most good employers nightmare of an employee, despite that these kinds of endeavors have been a mainstay of dystopian science fiction for 100+ years, you think they are still a good idea? Some introspection here might be a good idea.

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