Monday, December 4, 2023

Former Google executive raises concerns about tech giant's human rights policies

Google's office in Zurich, Switzerland.

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Ross LaJeunesse, a former Google executive has expressed his concerns about the human rights policies that the firm follows as it moves to expand into China and other countries where civil and human rights are regularly violated.
LaJeunesse’s comments come at a time when Google has repeatedly stated its “unwavering commitment” to human rights.
As Google’s former head of global international relations, LaJeunesse said he was “sidelined” after he pushed the company to take a stronger stance on rights violations and that nearly all of his efforts to form a human rights programme faced stiff resistance from internal forces from within Google.
“Each time I recommended a Human Rights Program, senior executives came up with an excuse to say no,” said LaJeunesse before adding, ‘‘I then realised that the company never intended to incorporate human rights principles into its business and product decisions. 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.’’
Google closed its Chinese search engine in 2010 because of the harsh censorship laws enacted by the Chinese Communist Party and government hacks of Chinese human-rights activists. Google attempted to return to China, but in July announced that would it would no longer continue with the development of the “Dragonfly” programme, an Internet search engine designed to be compatible with the Communist Party’s state censorship provisions.
The project had been the subject of stiff criticism and widespread concern from some American politicians as well as from many of Google’s own employees, including LaJeunesse.
LaJeunesse, who is now running for a seat in the US Senate, said in a post on the online publishing platform Medium that, ‘‘No longer can massive tech companies like Google be permitted to operate relatively free from government oversight’’.
Included in LaJeunesse’s criticism of Google was his pointed critique of the way the tech giant treats of women and minorities.
In response, Google said that human rights assessments are being conducted for all future services. ‘‘We have an unwavering commitment to supporting human rights organisations and efforts,’’ a spokeswoman said in a statement.
Google also stated that it “rigorously investigates” claims of inappropriate conduct and has worked to improve the reporting process. Moreover, it vehemently disagreed with LaJeunesse regarding its human rights policies, saying that the more centralised approach LeJeunesse recommended would not serve the company’s best interests given Google’s variety of services.

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