Google’s former top diplomat now blames the company’s “disengaged” founders and earnings-driven leadership for Google’s departure from its core value, “Don’t be evil.”
Ross LaJeunesse, who joined Google in 2008 and was head of international relations until last May, according to his LinkedIn profile, said in a Medium post Thursday that Google has changed into a company that values profits over human rights. As head of public policy for Asia-Pacific in 2010, LaJeunesse said he steered the company’s removal of its search engine from China after the founders determined they could not provide an increasingly censored product while adhering to Google’s internal values.
But seven years later, LaJeunesse said he was “alarmed” to learn of Google’s renewed ambitions in China with project “Dragonfly.” LaJeunesse, who is now running as a Democrat for Susan Collins’ Senate seat in Maine, said his attempts to adopt a companywide human rights program were blocked. In interviews with The Washington Post, LaJeunesse said Google’s public policy chief, Kent Walker, had worried the formal commitment could expose Google to further liability. When a colleague was later appointed to lead policy for Dragonfly, LaJeunesse said he felt “sidelined.” Google later ended the Dragonfly project after employee pushback, The Intercept reported in late 2018.
“I then realized that the company had never intended to incorporate human rights principles into its business and product decisions,” LaJeunesse wrote in the Medium post. “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 said after raising several concerns with human relations, he was told his job was eliminated due to a “reorganization.” He said he declined a “small role” he was offered “in exchange for my acquiescence and silence” after hiring a lawyer. LaJeunesse said he had been highly rated by peers at the company and in performance reviews. Google did not immediately confirm this information.
In a statement, a Google spokesperson said: “We have an unwavering commitment to supporting human rights organizations and efforts. That commitment is unrelated to and unaffected by the reorganization of our policy team, which was widely reported and which impacted many members of the team. As part of this reorganization, Ross was offered a new position at the exact same level and compensation, which he declined to accept.”
The main thing that has changed at Google, according to LaJeunesse, is its leadership.
After founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin “disengaged,” he wrote, “A new CEO was hired to lead Google Cloud and a new CFO was hired from Wall Street, and beating earnings expectations every quarter became the key priority.”
Page and Brin recently stepped down from their executive positions at Google’s parent company, Alphabet, though they still own controlling voting shares and will remain active on the board. Although he didn’t mention her by name, the Wall Street CFO LaJeunesse refers to is Ruth Porat, who joined Google in 2015 from Morgan Stanley. Porat quickly gained a reputation for reining in spending and growing the company’s revenues.
LaJeunesse also contends in the Medium post that Google’s products have become more focused on squeezing out profit than balancing human rights concerns.
“Some will say that Google was always a bad corporate actor, with less than transparent privacy practices. But there is a significant difference between serving ads based on a Google search and working with the Chinese government on artificial intelligence or hosting the applications of the Saudi government, including Absher, an application that allows men to track and control the movement of their female family members,” he wrote. “Executives hell-bent on capturing cloud computing revenue from Microsoft, Oracle, and Amazon had little patience for those of us arguing for some form of principled debate before agreeing to host the applications and data of any client willing to pay.”
LaJeunesse isn’t the only Google veteran speaking out against his former employer. CNBC interviewed several former longtime Google employees who echoed many of LaJeunesse’s criticisms and called the company “unrecognizable.”