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Ex-Google exec calls out company over human rights

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Ross LaJeunesse, the former head of global international relations at Google, has posted a strongly-worded blog post criticising the company for its alleged neglect of human rights concerns.

LaJeunesse began working at Google in 2008, and left his leadership role in May 2018. He is now campaigning for a seat in the US Senate as a Democrat in Maine, hoping to unseat Republican Susan Collins.

In his blog post, he describes observing as Google’s culture changed for the worse: “The company’s motto used to be “Don’t be evil”. Things have changed.”

LaJeunesse recounted how Google’s main search business left the Chinese market in 2010, refusing to submit to laws which would have required search results to be censored. He said that this was quickly followed with frustrated Google executives exploring alternative ways to launch products in China in search of profit. Its plans to launch a censored Chinese search engine (the 'Dragonfly' project) were aborted in July under serious pressure from within and outside the company.

According to LaJeunesse, he found himself “sidelined” after he pushed the company to take a stronger moral stance on certain issues, such as after he attempted to establish a company-wide human rights review.

“Each time I recommended a Human Rights Program, senior executives came up with an excuse to say no,” he wrote. “I then realised that the company had never intended to incorporate human rights principles into its business and product decisions. Just when Google needed to double down on a commitment to human rights, it decided to instead chase bigger profits and an even higher stock price.”

LaJeunesse claims that he was also flagged up as a troublesome employee due to raising concerns about the treatment of women and minority groups within the company, such as by addressing dismissive and discriminatory language used at meetings. He claims that he was accidentally copied in to a human resources email, which suggested that another employee “do some digging” on him.

He claims that he was eventually offered what he considered to be a demotion, motivating him to leave the company last year.

According to his blog post, the experience motivated him to call for tougher tech regulations: “No longer can massive tech companies like Google be permitted to operate relatively free from government oversight.”

Many high-profile Democrats, including presidential contenders Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have called for a clampdown on Big Tech. Criticism of the industry is bipartisan, however, with Republican Senator Josh Hawley one of the most prominent tech hawks in Congress.

In a statement, a Google spokesperson asserted that it has an “unwavering commitment to human rights organisations and efforts”. She stated that the company conducts human rights assessments for its services, but a company-wide approach was not appropriate given the range of products managed by Google. Google also contested LeJeunesse’s claim of being offered an effective demotion.

LeJeunesse is perhaps the highest-profile former Google employee to have publicly criticised the company. He joins a handful of influential ex-tech giant insiders, such as former Facebook executives Chris Hughes, to castigate the behaviour of these companies.

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