Google Workers Lost a Leader, but the Fight Will Continue
Liz Fong-Jones explains why she left, and the future of tech worker activism, in a new op-ed
I quit Google this January. It was a bittersweet moment — I joined 11 years ago as a college dropout and ultimately emerged as a prominent figure in the field of Site Reliability Engineering. My work had impact, I liked my team, and Google had given me so much over my career. But I couldn’t continue working there.
I have grave concerns about how strategic decisions are made at Google today, and who is missing a seat at the bargaining table. Google bears the responsibility of being one of the most influential companies in the world, but it has misused its power to place profits above the well-being of people. Executives seem to have forgotten the ethos of the company’s earliest employees — “don’t be evil” — and ethical stances, such as pulling out of China over censorship concerns in 2010, have been supplanted by shadowy efforts to appease the country’s government at the expense of human rights.
The approaches that I used during my time at Google to advocate for vulnerable people, including women, people of color, and LGBT+ people, have become less effective as leadership repeatedly stonewalls employees who privately raise concerns. Google will need to fundamentally change how it is run in order to win back the trust of workers and prevent a catastrophic loss of long-tenured employees, especially those from vulnerable groups.
I first raised my voice on behalf of users in January 2010, less than two years into my run at the company. I’d taken to heart the Google handbooks containing phrases such as “focus on the user, and all else will follow,” and “don’t be evil; if you see something that you think isn’t right — speak up!”
I, along with many peers, predicted that without significant product changes, the launch of Google+ would be a disaster for vulnerable users. The new social network was set to mirror Facebook’s real-name policy, which insists people use their legal names on the platform. In doing so, Google+ would create yet another space inaccessible to some teachers, therapists, LGBT+ people, and others who need to use a different identity for privacy and safety. As a…