Google has fired four employees over alleged violations of data security policies amid accusations that the move was part of the tech giant’s efforts to “crush” staffers’ attempts to unionise.
Google's Security and Investigations team accused the four people, who have been dubbed the "Thanksgiving Four" on social media, of inappropriately accessing information about other projects and employees.
"Our thorough investigation found the individuals were involved in systematic searches for other employees’ materials and work. This includes searching for, accessing, and distributing business information outside the scope of their jobs - repeating this conduct even after they were met with and reminded about our data security policies,” Google said in a memo.
Investigators added that the information, “along with details of internal emails and inaccurate descriptions about Googlers’ work, was subsequently shared externally.”
Google Employees’ Protest Rally
The sackings of the Thanksgiving Four came after last week’s protest demonstration at Google's San Francisco office, which was attended by more than 200 Google employees, including two of the four fired employees, Rebecca Rivers and Laurence Berland.
Speaking during the rally, Rivers said that she had been put on administrative leave for accessing confidential documents, tweeting shortly after that her contract with Google had been terminated.
The campaign group Tech Workers Coalition, in turn, tweeted that the four employees had been fired for "organising at work", adding, “this is meant to scare workers, don't let it."
The team recalled that “this is explicitly condoned in Google's Code of Conduct, which ends: 'And remember… don’t be evil, and if you see something that you think isn’t right – speak up.”
“When they did, Google retaliated against them. Today, after putting two of them on sudden and unexplained leave, the company fired all four in an attempt to crush worker organising,” the team noted.
They claimed that Google’s crackdown would not work because “for every one they retaliate against, there are hundreds of us who will fight, and together we will win,” adding, “one of the most powerful companies in the world wouldn’t be retaliating against us if collective action didn’t work.”
End of Google’s Working Culture?
The developments come amid speculation about the looming end of Google's world famous open working culture as executives try to restrict staffers’ access to information on projects they are not involved with.
Earlier in November, Google's chief executive Sundar Pichai reportedly told staff about scrapping a weekly "all-hands" meeting which will now be replaced with replaced by a monthly gathering that will only focus on “product and business strategy.”
The Verge website cited an unnamed source as saying that Google executives plan to ban free-flowing questions on Google's political controversy during the meetings. These include Google’s role in China, the military-related issues and cooperation with US Immigrations, Customs and Enforcement.