Employee Lawsuit Accuses Google of ‘Spying Program’

A Google product manager is suing the company over its internal confidentiality policies, saying they breach California labor laws. Among other things, the lawsuit alleges Google runs an internal “spying program” which relies on employees voluntarily reporting other employees who might have leaked information.

The lawsuit alleges that Google warns employees to not put into writing concerns about potential illegal activity within Google, even to the company’s own attorneys, because the disclosures could fall into the hands of regulators and law enforcement. It also alleges that confidentiality provisions include a prohibition on employees writing “a novel about someone working at a tech company in Silicon Valley,” without Google signing off on the final draft.

The suit follows a complaint filed earlier this year with the National Labor Relations Board that raised similar issues, which  The Information wrote about in June. A person familiar with the matter confirmed the complaint and lawsuit were filed by the same employee. Google has since amended its Data Classification Guidelines, which were the subject of the labor complaint, according to the Monday lawsuit. If the employee is successful in the lawsuit, it could have broad implications for Silicon Valley, forcing companies to relax their tight grip on confidential information.

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CORRECTION: The lawsuit against Google doesn't discuss ways that employees can raise concerns. An earlier version of the article incorrectly said that it did.

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“Don’t send an email that says ‘I think we broke the law’ or ‘I think we violated this contract,’” the company told employees in one training program.