Controversial Google Investigation Centers On AI Ethicist Data Breach

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Google has now officially launched an investigation into AI ethicist Margaret Mitchell, reports indicate. The investigation itself seems reasonably straightforward, centering on a potential breach of company policies regarding the handling of private company data. But, given the circumstances surrounding the investigation’s launch, it could also potentially stir up more controversy over its treatment of employees.

What’s this investigation of the AI ethicist about, according to Google?

Now, as noted above, this new internal Google investigation into the AI ethicist seems to be fairly straightforward. In a statement released by the company, the search giant noted that it had locked Ms. Mitchell’s company email. The lockdown was, it says, automatic. More succinctly, sensitive data shared outside of Google’s internal systems triggers a lockdown. Specifically, in this case, it was the result of thousands of files being ‘exfiltrated’ and ‘shared’ with multiple accounts outside of Google.

Google has also explained the action taken to Ms. Mitchell, according to the statement released by the company.


From there, Google has said it is “actively investigating” the potential breach to gather additional details. But this may not be as straightforward as that.

Mitchell was looking into examples of discriminatory treatment in a previous controversy

According to the source, Ms. Mitchell’s activity leading up to this investigation may tell a different story. The AI ethicist reportedly utilized automated scripts to search her messages for “examples showing discriminatory treatment” of a former Google AI ethicist before the account was locked.

Specifically, the AI lead was looking for examples of mistreatment of Timnit Gebru. Ms. Gebru was effectively forced out of the company after raising questions in a scientific paper about the challenges raised by and potential harm caused by”Google-like tech.” In effect, Google demanded the paper be retracted. Because Ms. Gebru questioned the demand and refused, Google accepted her resignation.


Conversely, the company has itself been looking into the impacts of the ouster and its treatment of Ms. Gebru. But it has not released any findings from those internal investigations. And it’s not immediately clear whether the content of files being shared externally had anything to do with that inquiry.