Are today’s technology titans the new monopolies? Do the filthy rich executives say one thing and do another? Or are Silicon Valley and its satellite cities (like Austin) geek utopias where abundance is the rule?
When evaluating the titan’s there are many angles to take from the customer’s perspective, privacy invasion being foremost among them. But what about the people who work for Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google (FAANG)? What’s their take?
Google’s Squeaky Wheels
Google paid executive Andy Rubin nearly $90 million in severance after he was ushered out of the company for sexual misconduct. The Times concluded that “Google could have fired Mr. Rubin and paid him little to nothing on the way out. Instead, the company handed him a $90 million exit package, paid in installments of about $2 million a month for four years, said two people with knowledge of the terms.”
Claire Stapleton was one prominent early Googler who was outraged by the Rubin severance. She and thousands of other Google employees walked out in protest in 2018. Six months later she was fired.
Now, her story is available to all. Here’s a clip from her article in Elle.
The Walkout’s spark might have been Andy Rubin, and indeed there were plenty of other tales of harassment and coercion at Google. But it was broader, deeper than that; this was a monument to disillusionment, capturing all sorts of anecdotes and reflections on a culture of discrimination, gaslighting, retaliation, ethical breaches, punitive managers, bad HR.
A “culture of discrimination, gaslighting, retaliation, ethical breaches, punitive managers, and bad HR.” People working in advertising wouldn’t know a thing about any of this. Hold it, I take that back. Google is an advertising company.
The Corporation Resists
Stapleton details Google’s failures to abide by its own “do no evil” code. She writes:
Within a few months of the Walkout, there were new “community guidelines” meant to limit people discussing politics on internal groups, and accessing “need to know” documents—like those that, in 2018, revealed Google was bidding on a military contract and developing a censored search engine for China—was made a fireable offense.
She also points to this Bloomberg article from January 2019, which details the company’s requests to the National Labor Relations Board. During the Obama administration, the NLRB broadened employees’ rights to use their workplace email system to organize around issues on the job. In a 2014 case, Purple Communications, the agency restricted companies from punishing employees for using their workplace email systems for activities like circulating petitions or fomenting walkouts, as well as trying to form a union. Google urged the NLRB to undo that precedent.
Organizers of the employee Walkout wrote in a statement. “If these protections are rolled back, Google will be complicit in limiting the rights of working people across the United States, not just us.”
Technology Is Not A Religion, But It Is A Belief System
This morning, I read an opinion piece by The Economist’s editorial board. It concludes:
The technological transformation since the Industrial Revolution has helped curb ancient evils, from child mortality to hunger and ignorance. Yes, the planet is warming and antibiotic resistance is spreading. But the solution to such problems calls for the deployment of more technology, not less. So as the decade turns, put aside the gloom for a moment. To be alive in the tech-obsessed 2020s is to be among the luckiest people who have ever lived.
What are we to make of this unbridled optimism from a serious magazine? I’m inclined to agree with the logic, but I’m also staring into the digital abyss and remembering life before FAANG. Maybe you are too.