Good morning. David Meyer here, filling in for Alan from Berlin.
The Google walkouts worked, at least on one point—following protests by workers over sexual harassment and its consequences at Google, the company has put an end to the reviled system of forced arbitration that made it impossible for workers to sue Google when they were harassed.
Arbitration will now be optional, not mandated in people’s contracts. And so, one of the main tools for brushing such cases under the carpet is vanquished (at Google, at least.) Transparency wins, and the consequences for sexual harassment suddenly become more meaningful to the company.
A couple of months ago, I noted that Google employees pushing back against their company’s planned Chinese re-entry, and its military deals, were doing what Google’s code of conduct exhorted them to do: “Don’t be evil, and if you see something that you think isn’t right—speak up!” The anti-sexual harassment campaign provides another example of that, albeit one with more immediately personal stakes for many employees.
It also reflects a repurposing of the workers’ day-job skills and technologies. One notable aspect of the campaign is that its organizers used Google’s own collaboration tools, such as Groups and Docs, to prepare their project by getting feedback from hundreds of colleagues.
“I think what we did was disprove the myth that it’s too hard to take collective action,” one worker, Celie O’Neil-Hart, told the New York Times. Another, Stephanie Parker, said: “It was really fun to see my fellow employees flex the skills that a lot of them had developed at Google—their program management skills, their marketing skills, their P.R. skills, but in the service of this movement.”
As noted before, it’s a real shame that this overdue change didn’t come from the top down. That said, the fact it came from the bottom up is testament to the more positive side of Google’s work culture.
It’s also a reminder that, despite the public’s view of Silicon Valley being harmed by the divisiveness and intrusiveness of Big Tech’s tools, the potential is still there for technology to be a unifying force for good.
Incidentally, Google CEO Sundar Pichai has suggested that the censorship implications of that potential Chinese re-entry are acceptable because the EU already requires a level of search-result censorship on privacy grounds. Europe’s rules provide a clear exception for information that’s in the public interest, while China’s rules are about hiding facts that people should know. So that’s not a great argument.
More news below.