Google has fired four employees it accused of breaching data security policies, sparking accusations that the company was retaliating against activists.
The US tech giant said the dismissals came after an investigation found that the staff members had accessed work, calendars, and emails of other Google staff.
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“We have always taken information security very seriously, and will not tolerate efforts to intimidate Googlers or undermine their work, nor actions that lead to the leak of sensitive business or customer information,” the company wrote in an email obtained by Bloomberg.
“This is not how Google’s open culture works or was ever intended to work.”
But the move could stoke tensions with activist staff members who have protested some of the company’s work and its handling of sexual harassment allegations.
While Google did not identify the employees who had been fired, software engineer Rebecca Rivers, who had objected to the company’s work with US Customers and Border Protection, announced on Twitter that she was “being terminated”.
The link fuelled accusations that Google was attempting to silence activist employees and prevent them from unionising.
“With these firings, Google is ramping up its illegal retaliation,” staff members wrote in a statement posted online. “This is classic union busting dressed up in tech industry jargon, and we won’t stand for it.”
Google has always prided itself on its open corporate culture, but the incident highlights the shifting sands as employees hit back at company policy.
Meredith Whittaker, who led global staff walkouts over the tech giant’s sexual harassment policy and subsequently left the company, branded the dismissals “illegal” and “craven retaliation”.
Google said the staff members were dismissed for “clear and repeated violations of our data security policies”.