Former Top Google Exec Gives Devastating Explanation of Why he Quit

Google has faced internal staff protests and criticism in recent times over its approach to human rights both at home and abroad. The firm’s former head of international relations, Ross LaJeunesse, revealed on Thursday his concerns in this area prompted him to quit.

Each time I recommended a Human Rights Program, senior executives came up with an excuse to say no. At first, they said human rights issues were better handled within the product teams, rather than starting a separate program. But the product teams weren’t trained to address human rights as part of their work. When I went back to senior executives to again argue for a program, they then claimed to be worried about increasing the company’s legal liability. We provided the opinion of outside experts who re-confirmed that these fears were unfounded. At this point, a colleague was suddenly re-assigned to lead the policy team discussions for Dragonfly. As someone who had consistently advocated for a human rights-based approach, I was being sidelined from the on-going conversations on whether to launch Dragonfly. I then realized that the company had never intended to incorporate human rights principles into its business and product decisions. Just when Google needed to double down on a commitment to human rights, it decided to instead chase bigger profits and an even higher stock price.

Check It Out: Former Top Google Exec Gives Devastating Explanation of Why he Quit

2 thoughts on “Former Top Google Exec Gives Devastating Explanation of Why he Quit

  • This piece is extraordinary and incredibly damning – not just to Google but to every company (ahem, Apple) that does business in China and other authoritarian countries.)

    I really hope that Apple’s moves to expand manufacturing to other countries (India) will allow them escape China’s chains and control.

  • Charlotte:

    Ross LaJeunesse’s piece on Google is important on many levels, despite its anticlimactic outcome on his career and the completely predictable course of Google’s decisions on product development for anyone who has been paying attention.

    Up front, there are obvious takeaways that he offers up, particularly in the internal politics and social climate, with which anyone who has worked in either the public or private sectors can readily relate and identify, whether it be the marginalisation and ultimate dismissal of anyone not deemed to be a ‘team player’, a euphemism for covering each others’ backsides – notably those of the higher ups – in pursuit of any objective however sordid or unprincipled; the stratification into social hierarchies that mirror larger society and its companion isolation and aggression towards vulnerable minorities, be they gender, ethnic, religious or otherwise, and the Balkanisation of these into competing cliques each in pursuit of institutional dominance; and the corrosion of institutional values in favour of the self-interests and individual ambitions of senior management – all of these are can be summarised as just another Monday morning in any workplace planet-wide. Yours truly has yet to experience any workplace where these dynamics did not obtain, at least in some small measure, because human beings worked there, and this is what we do.

    And because this is what humans do when left to our own devices, we require, whether we like it or not, institutions governed by the rule of law and regulation to keep our baser tendencies in check.

    And speaking of baser tendencies, let’s talk about the free market and profit-making, not that this base, but it can certainly select for baseness. Surveillance capitalism, which lies at the heart of LaJeunesse’s complaint, is no exception, and today is central to our gravest concerns about the tech industry. There are two lessons arising from his piece.

    First, as we’ve argued before, no one should expect a commercial concern to be able to affect, let alone alter, the political course of a nation state on demand. Certainly, its platform can have such effects, but these will be uncontrolled by the commercial company, and once started, will assume a life of their own. Political institutions and their legislative tools of trade are the implements of choice for altering policy and restructuring society. A controlled but competitive market, such as that in China, will readily be used by a government to coerce compliance of any commercial interest with its will and laws, if that interest wishes to compete in that market. External pressure from a consortium of nation states, or internal pressure from a populace demanding change or in open revolt, or any combination thereof, can alone compel change in the legal or regulatory environment in which commerce will compete. No one should be surprised that Google, or any concern, will conform to local standards and laws. Nor should anyone expect these companies to behave as policy activists at the expense of market access, particularly when their ultimate card is withdrawal from the market, ie market suicide.

    Second, but more germane, surveillance capitalism is an industry ripe for abuse and weaponisation. Not only will these companies fall in line with the policies of a local government, including an authoritarian regime, but in pursuit of competitive advantage, will rationalise the co-opting of their products and expertise to ends that contradict their stated aims and mission statements (eg Don’t be evil), particularly when the internal corporate culture has been perverted or subordinated to the personal ambitions of leadership and profit. Expecting competing companies to self-regulate, likely at the expense of their own relative advantage, is dangerously naive, and when practised as the standard, is tantamount to negligence and malpractice. Not only for their own well-being, but for that of populations in every setting where these companies compete, regulation and oversight, as LaJeunesse argues, is essential. Along this line, standards that are adopted by a plurality if not majority of nations, and enforced when necessary by trade sanctions and other economic and political levers, provide the necessary framework for these companies to follow best practices that protect not only the consumer, but the civil and human rights that many of their customers demand.

    This is not a flaw, but a feature of a competitive system, which requires regulation in order to level the playing field, prune by pain of punishment our worst instincts, enable an environment of best practices, and thereby protect the well-being of all, including the most vulnerable amongst us.

    Let any who doubt this latter lesson point to that unregulated industry or system where even the weakest thrive untrammeled and without fear.

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