As has been widely reported, Google employees and contractors are staging a global walkout to protest the company’s response to a range of sexual harassment allegations and payments made in connection with some of those claims. The allegations and payments were first reported by the New York Times on October 25.
Close Google tabs ‘for a minute.’ The scheduled time for the walkout at Google’s California headquarters is 11:10 am Pacific time. At the same time there have been calls for users to “close Google tabs” and stop using Google services (e.g., Gmail, YouTube) “for a minute” in a show of support for the walkout.
The walkout was prompted by the revelation that Android creator Andy Rubin had been accused of previously undisclosed sexual misconduct. Google’s internal investigation reportedly found the allegation against Rubin was “credible” and he exited the company in 2014. At the time Rubin was praised and the exit was uncontroversial. Also, undisclosed at the time was a $90 million payout to Rubin as part of the exit.
Prior to Rubin, Amit Singhal who was in charge of search at Google for years, left the company and joined Uber. It was later reported that he left Google because of allegations of sexual misconduct. He apparently did not disclose that to Uber and was asked to leave there as well.
Reported payout sparked the controversy. More recently, in addition to Rubin, the Times reported that there were other executives accused of sexual misconduct that had been shielded or retained by the company, including Richard DeVaul, of Google X, who has now resigned or been terminated.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai, reportedly said in an internal memo that he supports the walkout. Employees are making several concrete demands in connection with the walkout today. They include:
- An end to forced arbitration in cases of harassment or discrimination
- A commitment to end pay and opportunity inequality
- A publicly disclosed sexual harassment transparency report
- A clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and anonymously
- Elevate the Chief Diversity Officer to answer directly to the CEO and make recommendations directly to the board of directors. In addition, appoint and employee representative to the board.
Growing employee activism. This is the latest and most high profile incident in a trend of growing employee activism in Silicon Valley and in particular at Google. Employees have protested Google’s potential work with the US Department of Defense (around AI) and its development of a censored search engine for China that would provide user data access to the Chinese government.
What it may mean for marketers. It will be interesting to see how widespread the Google blackout is and whether Google properties see any traffic declines. It will also be interesting to see whether, over time, more users seek out alternatives to Google. DuckDuckGo, which uses privacy as a selling point, last month said it reached the milestone of 30 million queries per day.
Corporate ethics have loomed larger since the 2016 election for brands and technology companies alike. There has been debate about whether ethical problems or strong social and political stands harm or help companies.
There’s evidence that consumers care about the ethical positions that companies take. However location intelligence company Gravy Analytics recently released data that argues politics matter much less to buyers less than is being reported.