Former Google Employee Claims Company Fails 'Don't Be Evil' Mission

February 15, 2019
Updated 1mo ago

By Amanda Weston

When engineer Liz Fong-Jones took a job at Google 11 years ago, she was confident in her mission: to make "the world's information universally accessible and useful."

But over time, she said she witnessed the company fail to protect its most vulnerable users, while turning a blind eye to the harassment of marginalized employees in its own workplace ー Fong-Jones among them .

"To see the company start making things less useful or to make [information] actually hurt people, that was painful to see my work misused in those ways," Fong-Jones told Cheddar.

After over a decade of service, the engineer and tech labor advocate quit the company in January, and now she's calling for real change.

"I thought that it was going to live up to 'don't be evil' when I joined the company 10, 11 years ago but things have definitely gotten worse over time because, in part, the executives have stopped paying as much attention to what's the right thing to do and to focus more on short-term profits," she said.

As part of her commitment to transparency, Fong-Jones wrote an op-ed that details her negative experiences at the tech giant.

Early in the piece, Fong-Jones detailed employees' concerns ahead of the launch of Google+, which forced users to identify their legal name on their profile. For Fong-Jones, it's a personal matter.

"As someone who is transgender I knew that being forced to use my legal name would be hurtful to me," Fong-Jones said. "That it was something that a lot of trans people don't have the money to fix ー and it also impacted a wide range of other vulnerable people. And not just marginalized, small groups like sex workers, but also groups like teachers, therapists, people that need to have private lives separate from the name that you can search for them on Google web search."

Although hundreds of her colleagues joined her in compiling a list of arguments against the policy decision and thousands more signed a petition, Fong-Jones said executives went ahead with the real-name policy.

"Their initial response was that they thought they knew what was best for the product and they were willing to put aside these concerns for more marginalized groups in order to pursue growth," she said.

Fong-Jones also described an "escalation of harassment, doxxing, and hate speech targeted at marginalized employees within Google’s internal communications."

"It began as concern trolling and rapidly escalated to leaks of the names, photos, and posts of LGBT+ employees to white supremacist sites," Fong-Jones wrote.

"Management silently tolerated it for fear of being labeled as partisan. Employees attempted to internally raise concerns about this harassment through official channels, only to be ignored, stonewalled, or even punished for doing so."

Google did not immediately respond to a request from Cheddar for comment.

Fong-Jones said at the very least, the public is more aware of the company's failings since Google employees broke their silence a year ago. After a year of dialogue, she believes people are more disappointed than surprised that nothing has been done.

But that's not the end. Fong-Jones also addressed Google's mis-handling of sexual misconduct allegations against Andy Rubin, and the company's history of hidden projects, including a censored search engine aimed at China that was known as Dragonfly. The Dragonfly project was effectively shut down after internal complaints, The Intercept reported.

"I think the thing that was most painful for me as someone who tried to work within the system for the past nine years is that the person who brought the Dragonfly project to light went to the press first because they didn't feel safe whistleblowing internally," Fong-Jones said.

"And I think that marks a really dark turn for the company. If people don't feel safe to voice their concerns internally and provide that early feedback, then it results in a lot worse of a public backlash than if we address things early."

Even still, Fong-Jones says she doesn't discourage people from joining Google, even those in marginalized groups. But she believes they should enter that culture with their eyes open.

And according to Fong-Jones, these issues aren't exclusive to Google.

"I've been speaking to workers at Microsoft ($MSFT), at Facebook ($FB), at Amazon ($AMZN)," Fong-Jones said. "This is a wider movement. This needs to not stop with just Google."

For full interview click here.