Google faces potential $3.8 billion lawsuit over internal ‘spying’ program based on workers ratting each other out: report

A Google product manager has filed suit against the company, claiming an internal spying program that relies in part on workers ratting each other out violates California labor law, a new report said.

“The lawsuit alleges Google runs an internal ‘spying program’ which relies on employees voluntarily reporting other employees who might have leaked information,” a Tuesday report from tech-news website The Information said.

According to The Information, which first reported on the lawsuit filed Monday in California Superior Court in San Francisco, the product manager is the same person who filed a federal National Labor Relations Board complaint earlier this year against Google and its sister firm Nest, maker of smart-home devices. That complaint alleged that the worker was fired for airing on Facebook grievances about the company, and that Google and Nest conducted illegal surveillance of employees via their electronic devices, to prevent workers from speaking out about workplace conditions.

The lawsuit alleges that Google “warns employees to not put into writing concerns about potential illegal activity within Google, even to the company’s own attorneys, because the disclosures could fall into the hands of regulators and law enforcement,” according to The Information.

The suit also claims the firm’s confidentiality rules bar employees from writing novels about “someone working at a tech company in Silicon Valley” without the company’s approval, The Information reported.

Google called the lawsuit “baseless” and said it would fight it vigorously.

“We’re very committed to an open internal culture, which means we frequently share with employees details of product launches and confidential business information,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “Transparency is a huge part of our culture. Our employee confidentiality requirements are designed to protect proprietary business information, while not preventing employees from disclosing information about terms and conditions of employment, or workplace concerns.”

The product manager is identified in the lawsuit only as “John Doe.” He claims that “Google’s policies violate labor laws that say employees must be allowed to discuss workplace conditions, wages and potential regulatory and legal violations inside the company,” The Information reported.

Stopping leaks to the media had reached such importance at Google that a co-founder, not named in the suit, told workers at an all-hands meeting that leakers would be fired, according to The Information. The product manager alleged in the suit that Google’s head of global investigations, intelligence and protective services falsely accused him of leaking information to the media, The Information said.

Losing the suit could cost Google big, according to The Information, because it was filed under the state’s Private Attorneys General Act, which allows workers to sue on behalf of other employees and the state.

“Google could be fined up to $100 for each of the 12 alleged violations in the suit, multiplied by 65,000 employees. If an allegedly unlawful policy lasted for more than one pay period, the fine doubles to $200 per pay period, per employee, for up to a year,” the report said. “If ‘Doe’ prevails on every allegation in the lawsuit, the maximum fine would be $3.8 billion, with about $14,600 going to each Google employee.”

The lawsuit, according to the report, outlines the ways in which employees are prohibited from speaking out about the company. The firm’s confidentiality agreement defines confidential information as “any information in any form that relates to Google . . . that is not generally known;” the Code of Conduct defines confidential information as “everything at Google” and bars workers from posting opinions about Google, even if they don’t include confidential information, and from discussing the company with the media; Google’s communication policy prohibits employees from talking about Google with anyone outside the company; and another policy says any speech that undermines Google’s reputation is cause for termination, according to The Information.

Google, since the federal complaint was filed, has amended the guidelines that were the subject of the complaint, the lawsuit said, according to The Information.



Photo: Google CEO Sundar Pichai (Manu Fernandez/AP)


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  • John Hoffman

    I use the unbiased search engine non tracking for your private search, finally a search with just good results, have a great day

  • Oh, my! The company that runs ‘black sites’ and works with DARPA is overly concerned with leaks? Who woulda guessed?