According to a report on Motherboard, a document leaked out of Google that shows the company fired dozens of employees over the past few years – 36 of them in 2020 alone – for illegally and unethically accessing user and employee data and sharing it outside of the workplace. Between 2018 and 2020, these individuals took advantage of their privileged access to tools and data and used it for personal reasons.
Motherboard got a hold of said document, and while it didn’t share it explicitly, it’s been known in the past for uncovering similar instances of abuse at Facebook, MySpace, Snapchat, and other big tech companies. Not only that, but Google itself has responded to the document, confirming the allegations. It states that the number of cases it’s had to deal with – and you can find the termination tally below – are “consistently low”, but user privacy isn’t a numbers game.
Here’s what a Google Spokesperson told Motherboard after they got a hold of the leaked document:
“The instances referred to mostly relate to inappropriate access to, or misuse of, proprietary and sensitive corporate information or IP. Regarding user data, we tightly restrict employee access through a number of industry leading safeguards, including: limiting access to user data to necessary individuals, requiring a justification to access such data, multi-stage review before access is granted to sensitive data, and monitoring for access anomalies and violations.
The number of violations, whether deliberate or inadvertent, is consistently low. Every employee gets training annually, we investigate all allegations, and violations result in corrective action up to and including termination. We are transparent in publicizing the number and outcome of our investigations to our employees and have strict processes in place to secure customer and user data from any internal or external threats. “Google spokesperson to Motherboard
Employee terminations for “security-related issues”
- 2018 – 18 terminations
- 2019 – 26 terminations
- 2020 – 36 terminations
Employees spying on users is surprisingly nothing new, and every company that’s ever had to handle personal information has had to mitigate these sorts of issues in some way. Google’s solution in response to its own internal conflicts has been to warn, train, and coach individuals. Of course, if those methods don’t work, the employees in breach of Google’s policies are terminated.
Access to user data at Google is given on an as-needed basis, and there are many safeguards in place to attempt to prevent these sorts of breaches from occurring. A smaller 10% of the cases last year at Google (down from 15% in 2019) where employees dug into user data show that individuals helped others access that data, modified it, or even deleted it in some cases!
All of this is deeply concerning. Period. Even one instance of information abuse is an extremely abhorrent and unacceptable deed. While it is human nature to abuse power, and to exploit position, trust in big tech will never build with reports like this. Not minimizing this, it is true that 75 employees versus the 150,000 that work at Google is only a .05 percentage. With that being said, that’s no justification at all, and any misuse of user information could alter or destroy the lives of many, many people.
Many avoid companies due to these situations, and that’s a completely acceptable course of action. I do also think that we should concern ourselves with the checks and balances of big tech in place of avoiding innovation and the convenience it brings, but the line between that and the precious and ever-waning idea of leading a private, protected life seems to get thinner by the day. It’s good that Google is documenting every instance of abuse, and if it wants to remain a household name, it needs to do everything in its power to mercilessly and proactively quash all of them.