Google spooked employees last week when it sent a company-wide reminder that sharing certain kinds of data, even with colleagues within the company, can be a fireable offense. Some employees that Business Insider spoke with saw the email as part of a push to clamp down on leaks at a time of unrest at the company.
And they worried that the reminder email was actually a tightening of data sharing rules that could chill workplace collaboration and that Google could use as a pretext to discipline certain employees. The note caused enough internal agitation that Google took steps to calm the waters on Tuesday with a follow-up note designed to clarify the rules around sharing need to know information.
The update — which was formatted as a Q&A with Googles Chief Legal Officer, Kent Walker — reiterated the reason for having controls on data access and tried putting to rest fears that collaboration across teams would be harmed. Read more: Google is threatening to fire employees in a crackdown on leaks about need to know projects Tuesdays update states that Googles internal data controls and classifications have been around since 2007, but that it has periodically updated the policy language to make it easier to understand and apply.
Some of those updates include adding examples of need-to-know information, like project plans and customer data, but that theres been no change to the intent of the policies. [The policies] contribute to a culture where people can have candid conversations, collaborate on joint projects, and share post-mortems or design docs with others as useful for their work, Walker said in the note.
Particularly at our scale, its important that we have clear rules and are all on the same page. A tool to squash leaks about controversial projects? Still, two current employees who spoke to Business Insider said Walkers most recent remarks didnt go far enough to address internal fears that Google will use its broad definitions around data sharing to retaliate against employees who raise concerns over controversial projects or participate in workplace organizing efforts, like the November Walkout to protest Googles approach to sexual harassment complaints.
It mostly ignores the concern about the policy possibly being used to retaliate arbitrarily, one current employee told us. Walkers email last week reminded employees that improperly accessing, copying, or sharing need-to-know or classified information — whether or not it was labeled as such — could result in disciplinary action and, firing.
In Tuesdays note, Walker said those disciplinary actions were generally taken against individuals who intentionally violated its policies, especially in a way that caused serious risk to user privacy or was harmful to co-workers. Googlers in London. REUTERS/Toby Melville .