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Google walkout leader leaves company after 'retaliation'

Meredith Whittaker, one of the Google employees who led global walkouts at the tech giant over sexual harassment claims, has left the company following allegations of a fallout against the protest’s organisers.

Ms Whittaker had organised employee protests at the company over its work for the US military, artificial intelligence, and its $90m (£70m) payout to Android creator Andy Rubin after he was accused of sexual misconduct.

At the time, the company’s chief executive Sundar Pichai said Google was taking an “increasingly hard line” in responding to inappropriate conduct, according to an email.

Staff gathered outside Google's offices in Zurich, Switzerland. Pic: @GoogleWalkout
Image:
Staff gathered outside Google’s offices in Zurich, Switzerland. Pic: @GoogleWalkout

Google employees at offices around the world walked out last November over the treatment of women at the company after sexual misconduct claims were made against several senior figures.

But both Ms Whittaker and another organiser, Claire Stapleton, claimed they had faced retaliation from Google over the protest – with Ms Stapleton saying she had been demoted, while Ms Whittaker’s ethics research department was shut down.

At the time Google claimed: “We prohibit retaliation in the workplace and investigate all allegations.”

A spokesperson explained: “Employees and teams are regularly and commonly given new assignments, or reorganised, to keep pace with evolving business needs. There has been no retaliation here.”

Last year, thousands of staff Google protested against the company’s work with the Pentagon’s surveillance drones programme.

Called Project Maven, the programme uses Google technology to automate the analysis of objects in the enormous amount of images that are captured by the Department of Defense’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

More than 3,100 staff signatures were attached to a letter addressed to Mr Pichai which was circulated inside Google with a request that the company pull out of the project.

The company reportedly planned not to renew its contract to support Project Maven, although a report in The Intercept suggested the company have been “hedging” this promise.

Another ethics issue which staff protested related to Google seeking Chinese government approval for a mobile search service called Dragonfly, which would censor some websites and search terms within the authoritarian state.

Those plans were dismissed as being at an “exploratory” stage by Mr Pichai, attempting to soothe anger among employees, adding it was “very unclear” if Google would launch the product.

The company did not respond to Sky News’ request to comment on Ms Whittaker’s departure.

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