Following months of reports surrounding organized protests at Google stemming from sexual allegation abuse among other issues, two more of the organizers behind those protests have now left the company.
That’s according to a recent report citing a Medium article documenting an internal note shared by Meredith Whittaker announcing her decision and a social media post from a second former employee, Celie O’Neil-Hart, indicating that she had moved to a new job. Ms. O’Neil-Hart previously took on the role of global head of trust and transparency marketing at YouTube Ads and will now be working at Pinterest as a member of the “comms team,” according to her tweet.
Both instances occurred on the same day this week, bringing the total number of organizers who have left positions with the search giant to four — of the original seven high-profile Googlers involved in the protests.
Pushed out by ultimatum?
Meredith Whittaker, formerly a lead working in AI at Google’s Open Research, has been featured in the news far more prominently after news broke that some managers within the company were allegedly retaliating for her role in organizing protests. The protests themselves were centered around allegations of sexual assault and Google’s policies for handling those.
In the aftermath of the protests, Ms. Whittaker revealed that in at least one instance, threats to remove her from her position at Google were put forward. In effect, the AI expert was told that she needed to abandon work focused on AI ethics with the AI Now Institute — an organization she had co-founded with New York University.
That institute has been put forward raising questions about whether that apparent ultimatum played a role in Ms. Whittaker’s decision to leave Google. The former Googler’s internal note indicates that there isn’t any “mystery” to the reasons. Summarily, Ms. Whittaker indicates that it is “clear” that Google isn’t a place where work on AI ethics can continue and points to her commitment with the AI Now Institute as a central factor in the decision.
The other key figure in the dispute centered around retaliation, former YouTube marketing manager Claire Stapleton, left the company back in June citing similar issues.
Google’s take is decidedly different
Google has, for its part, contested that its employees in leadership roles have put forward any such ultimatum and stated that Ms. Whittaker was free to continue working with the AI Now Institute when not working at Google.
The company has also spoken out against claims that any retaliation was occurring and has vowed to continue working with policymakers, academics, the wider tech community — as well as other leaders from across industries — to take on challenges associated with AI and ethics. Transparency will also play a central role in its AI activities going forward, according to statements attributed to the search giant.
The company has, as a result of the protests, instituted several key changes in its policies for handling disputes in the interim too. That’s included alterations to policies determining how and when it would or would not sell its AI as well as how it handles allegations of sexual abuse within its ranks.
Whether or not that’s enough is not a matter that’s up for dispute for Ms. Whittaker and others at the company. The former AI lead is encouraging others who have stayed with the company to continue working to fix the problems that still exist within the organization.