A lawsuit filed in California Superior Court in San Francisco on Tuesday on behalf of a former Google employee identified as a "John Doe" alleges that the Mountain View-based tech company insists upon internal privacy policies that violate labor laws, constituting a "spying program" that prevents employees from discussing potential regulatory, legal, and workplace conditions violations and encouraging employees to report on their colleagues who might do so.
The Information reported on the suit, filed under California’s Private Attorneys General Act, which allows Doe to sue on behalf of his coworkers and provide, in the event he should win the case, a serious payout that would go to the State of California and the 65,000 employees and former employees affected by the allegedly illegal policies.
The extent of the supposedly draconian privacy restrictions at the technology company borders on the absurd: Writing "a novel about someone working at a tech company in Silicon Valley,” without authorization from Google, for instance, would be prohibited, or so the lawsuit alleges. The suit even describes a "Stop Leaks" program that asks of employees that they turn over "suspicious activity reports” relating to “strange things you observe or strange things that happen to you — like someone asking you really detailed questions about your project or job.”
Further, the suit contends that employees are instructed, bluntly, “Don’t send an email that says ‘I think we broke the law’ or ‘I think we violated this contract.’” Google even "instructs Googlers to suppress information about dangerous products,” and "advises Googlers to delete paragraphs from emails that suggest there are serious flaws in Google technology."
The lawsuit comes from the same former employee of the company who filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board in June, which the Information reported on at the time, and per the recent lawsuit Google has amended its Data Classification Guidelines as a result of that initial complaint. From that earlier coverage, we learn that the employee in question, Doe, was fired from Nest, a company that sells internet connected smoke alarms and other products which is owned by Google. Nest's products drew scrutiny as news stories detailed their failings, and Recode summarizes what seems to have happened to the employee in the wake of that negative coverage: Basically, he posted internal communication about Nest, perhaps including some nasty memes, and got canned.
"Google’s motto is ‘don’t be evil.’ Google’s illegal confidentiality agreements and policies fail this test,” the lawsuit reportedly claims, which is an incredibly complicated way of alleging that Google is evil. Anyway, if you were hoping for a novel about a tech company written with the inside experience of a Google employee, you'd better just read The Circle, which seems all too apropos given the allegations of the suit.