Tech

Google fires four staffers after protest, accusing them of data security breaches

Key Points
  • Google says it has terminated four employees for “clear and repeated violations” of the company's data security policies.
  • The company claimed the employees shared sensitive information, including medical appointments and other meetings.
  • The terminations come after employees held a rally Friday in protest of what they claimed were retaliatory investigations.
Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, speaks during the company's 2017 Cloud Next event in San Francisco.
Bloomberg | Getty Images

Google has terminated four employees for allegedly sharing sensitive information after weeks of internal dissent related to the mistrust of leadership. At least two of the employees were at the center of recent worker protests in San Francisco.

In a memo to staffers on Monday, three members of Google's Security and Investigations Team wrote that the four workers were fired after investigations into their behavior concluded that they were engaged in wrongdoing.

"There's been some misinformation circulating about this investigation, both internally and externally," according to the memo, titled "Securing our data." "We want to be clear that none of these individuals were fired for simply looking at documents or calendars during the ordinary course of their work. To the contrary, our thorough investigation found the individuals were involved in systematic searches for other employees' materials and work."

Google confirmed the memo, which was first reported by Bloomberg. The company declined to comment further or confirm who was fired. But Rebecca Rivers, who previously spoke out about Google's contracts with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, tweeted she was one of them. Last week, 20 Google employees in San Francisco protested the questioning of Rivers and another employee, Laurence Berland, who had been placed on sudden and indefinite administrative leave for allegedly sharing sensitive information.

After that, Berland and Rivers held a rally in San Francisco that drew in roughly 200 Google workers. It was called "Town Hall to save our culture" and the protesters' top demand was to reinstate Berland and Rivers. During that rally, the two alleged they were placed on leave in retaliation for their activism.

Berland claimed at the rally that the global investigations team conducted a 2.5-hour "interrogation" and didn't allow him to bring representation or even take bathroom breaks. Rivers said her personal data was deleted when her work devices were taken away.

All four of those fired were employee activists, including Berland, according to a blog post by employee organizers.

The internal memo provided some detail about the alleged behavior that led the company to fire the employees.

"This includes searching for, accessing, and distributing business information outside the scope of their jobs — repeating this conduct even after they were met with and reminded about our data security policies," the memo said. "This information, along with details of internal emails and inaccurate descriptions about Googlers' work, was subsequently shared externally."

The company said the employees shared sensitive information, including medical appointments and other meetings. One of the fired individuals also tracked the whereabouts of other employees, the memo said.

"When the affected Googlers discovered this, many reported that they felt scared or unsafe, and requested to work from another location," the memo said. "Screenshots of some of their calendars, including their names and details, subsequently made their way outside the company."

The note went on to say that, "Fortunately, these types of activities are rare."

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