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Google Technology Legal

Google sued by employee over internal 'spying program'


By Kyle O'Brien, Creative Works Editor

December 21, 2016 | 3 min read

A former Google employee is suing the search giant over what the suit claims are illegal confidentiality rules, according to a story on Computerworld.

The program, called Stopleaks, suggests that employees need to report on “strange things” they see or hear around them, including anyone asking detailed questions about an employee’s project or job, so states the complaint. It alleges that employees are to be banned from writing creative fiction such as “a novel about someone working at a tech company in Silicon Valley,” without Google’s approving the book idea and the final draft.

The internal policies, which allegedly include prohibiting employees from speaking about illegal conduct or dangerous product defects, even internally, are apparently to control Google’s current and former employees, limiting what they can say.

The suit, first reported on The Information, the employee filed anonymously as John Doe. In it, it claims that Google’s director of global investigations, intelligence and protective services, Brian Katz, falsely informed roughly 65,000 Google employees that the plaintiff was terminated for leaking information to the press, though it didn’t specifically name him. The suit claims Google and Katz used the plaintiff as a scapegoat to help keep other employees in line with the policies.

Google’s policies, it claims, violate California laws, restrict employees’ rights to speak or whistle blow, and include restrictions on speaking to the government, attorneys or the press about wrongdoings at Google. It even prevents them from “speaking to spouse or friends about whether they think their boss could be doing a better job,” according to a complaint filed earlier with the Superior Court of California for the city and county of San Francisco.

“The policies prohibit Googlers from using or disclosing all of the skills, knowledge, acquaintances, and overall experience at Google when working for a new employer," stated the complaint, which also alleges that the company’s confidentiality policies are contrary to the California Labor Code, public policy and the interests of the state.

It also states that Google’s Global Investigation Team “also relies on ‘volunteers’ to report other employees who might have disclosed any information” about the company.

The Computerworld story said that Google could not be reached for comment, but in September, the employee complained to the Labor Workforce and Development Agency and the complaint states that after that Google made an amendment to the policies that “purported to broaden Googler’s right to discuss pay, hours or other terms of employment and to communicate with government agencies regarding violations of the law.”

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