Alphabet employees blast policies on contractors and China at shareholder meeting

Key Points
  • Employees use Alphabet's annual shareholder meeting to raise concerns about a number of topics.
  • They speak out on issues such as forced arbitration, workplace equity and Project Dragonfly.
  • Alphabet's top shareholders and executives Larry Page and Sergey Brin are not present at the meeting.
Larry Page enters Trump Tower for a meeting with then-President-elect Donald Trump on Dec. 14, 2016.

Alphabet employees used the company's annual shareholder meeting as a stage to air concerns about workplace equity and some of the company's controversial projects.

Alphabet employees are known to be among the boldest in Silicon Valley. Thousands of Google employees walked off the job across more than 20 offices worldwide in November to protest its workplace culture. The demonstration came after a New York Times investigation revealed that Google paid Android leader Andy Rubin a $90 million exit package after finding sexual misconduct allegations made against him to be credible.

That protest came up at Wednesday's meeting as an employee of Verily, Alphabet's health-tech company, asked the management about its response to the protest. Shortly after the protest, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that it would no longer require full-time employees to sign forced arbitration clauses for sexual harassment and sexual assault claims. The Verily employee, Max Kapczynski, asked why contractors and full-time employees of Alphabet's other subsidiaries did not get the same rights.

"You did not extend this legal right and protection to me, my co-workers at Verily, or the many contractors at Alphabet," Kapczynski said. "Why not? Are we worth less than other engineers at this company? Do we not all deserve these same rights and freedoms?"

A Google engineer, speaking on behalf of Zevin Asset Management and "concerned employees of Alphabet and its subsidiaries," said the company's culture has already driven away top talent.

The engineer, Irene Knapp, said the "long-term human capital risks" warned of at the last shareholder meeting were no longer long-term.

"Since then, nearly all of the people that I admired as thought leaders have left the company," Knapp said. "In their resignation letters, many of them cited the company's betrayal of its stated values." Knapp proposed linking senior executive compensation to factors such as diversity and inclusion.

Besides personnel issues, Alphabet employees raised concerns about ensuring the technology they develop is used in ethical ways. A Google employee, Tyler Holsclaw, representing a "coalition concerned about the impact of government censorship and surveillance on human rights" asked Alphabet to publish a human rights assessment of a Google search product in China. Google had reportedly been working on a censored search service for China known as Project Dragonfly, although The Intercept said it tabled the project late last year after internal and external pushback.

"China already engages in invasive cyber-surveillance and uses the data to crush dissent, destroy cultural and religious identities, and torture and imprison its citizens," Holsclaw said. "Google's powerful technology could give China data that it wouldn't otherwise get. We must think about what it means to partner with such a government."

Alphabet's top leaders and shareholders, CEO Larry Page and President Sergey Brin, were not present to hear their employees' concerns at the meeting.

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