Google is failing to protect users and contractors post-Roe, workers say

When the Supreme Court tipped over Deer vs Wade In June, Alphabet was one of several big tech companies trying to offer some flexibility to its dependent workers, including those who might need to travel abroad. It also made the narrow decision to remove users’ location data when they visited abortion clinics, albeit in response to legal pressure. Since then, however, Alphabet has remained virtually silent on the issue, and a group of its own employees are stepping up to demand a broader response on behalf of their colleagues and users at large.

The petition (reproduced in full below) was sent to a group of six executives, including CEO Sundar Pichai, on Monday and signed by over 650 employees at the company. So far, executives have not responded. In response to a request for comment, Alphabet told Engadget, “We have nothing special to add to this letter.”

First and foremost, workers are demanding that Alphabet’s new policies on out-of-state travel and reimbursement for care be extended to the company’s temporary workers, vendors and contractors (TVCs), a workforce that some estimates exceed its full-time employees. These include increasing daily reimbursement from $50 to $150 and changing the minimum number of sick days to seven. “Many of our TVC colleagues have three days of sick leave, while full-time employees have unlimited [days]Alejandra Beatty, technical program manager at subsidiary Verily and a member of the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU), told Engadget. “Everyone deserves a seven, especially when we’re still dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks.”

Engadget first asked Alphabet if these travel and reimbursement policies would be extended to TVCs shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision, and received no response. This implied exclusion was immediately criticized by AWU, and the company has apparently not resolved the discrepancy in treatment in the two months since.

The petition also aims to strengthen Alphabet’s privacy policies on these sensitive issues. “Searching for reproductive justice, gender-affirming care, and abortion access information on Google should never be stored, turned over to law enforcement, or treated as a crime,” the document reads. In practice, this would not only expand the scope of the company’s new policy on location data related to abortion clinics – both by extending it to new categories of sensitive information and new types of non-location data – but it would also de facto require that it changes how that information is logged in the first place. Law enforcement armed with a court order could force Alphabet to turn over data in its possession, and the only viable solution would be not to have that data. “We think it’s more important that we stand on the side that we just don’t have the data,” Beatty said, “because you can’t tell a company to just say ‘no’ to a subpoena.”

Questions surrounding abortion-related data retention immediately raised the worrying hypothesis roetipps that a tech company might be willing or compelled to share data with law enforcement that would lead to criminal charges. These companies have largely left this question unanswered. But a version of that grim scenario has already materialized, with Facebook messages to police officers becoming key evidence in an abortion case prosecuted in Nebraska. (Meta, Facebook’s parent company, claims the warrants came before the Supreme Court’s decision and didn’t specifically mention abortion. That doesn’t bode well for privacy, though.)

Among other dystopian schemes that have already come to fruition: Google’s own alleged complicity in sending bogus results from “abortion clinics” to care seekers in its search and map products – something this petition also seeks to undo. A number of recent reports have indicated that inquiries about these products often lead to so-called “pregnancy crisis centers”, which are non-medical, often religious, institutions whose express aim is to persuade pregnant women to carry their pregnancies to term.

To achieve these and the petition’s other broader goals, “signers are calling on Alphabet to establish a dedicated task force with 50% employee representation to be responsible for implementing changes across all products and our business, just as Alphabet has done for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.” The existence of this task force may not be known to the public. However, Beatty says the volunteer team — which she believes number in the thousands — has made too many discernible changes to Alphabet products has led, like information boxes about COVID in Search, test locations being cataloged on Maps, and even Google and Apple’s joint contact-tracing app (although granted. The latter wasn’t a resounding success.) “I want to see a plan that similar to our response to COVID-19,” Beatty said. “This is a health crisis that was created. I want a plan like that see. And others agree with me.”

Protect the rights of our workers

We, the undersigned, acknowledge that all Alphabet employees, of either gender, may benefit from the dismissal of the Roe v. Wade and are disappointed with Alphabet’s response and impact on this ruling.

Alphabet has continued to make access to reproductive and gender-affirming health care a “women’s issue” by only providing listening sessions to women @ Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and using gender-biased language in their communications with employees when it’s an issue that affects everyone affects us.

To align with Google’s core values, we request that Alphabet recognize the impact of this Supreme Court ruling on all of its employees and do the following immediately:

1. Protect access to reproductive health care for all workers by establishing a reproductive health standard in the US Wages and Benefits Standards, including:

a. Extending the same healthcare travel benefits offered to RTDs on TVCs.

b. Adding at least 7 days of additional sick time as workers have to travel for longer periods to receive healthcare services.

c. Increased FTE and TVC travel reimbursement amounts to $150 per night. $50 is NOT a viable refund for a hotel stay in most states and does not apply to child care or lost wages.

i.e. Released a TVC Transparency Report detailing vendors’ compliance with Alphabet/Google’s US Wages and Benefits Standards. For example, details on why certain roles are exempt and timelines for vendors to be compliant.

2. Protect our government from corporate influence. Alphabet must stop lobbying politicians and political organizations, through NetPAC or otherwise, because those politicians were responsible for appointing the Supreme Court justices who ruled Roe v. Wade and continue to violate other human rights issues related to voting access and gun control.

3. Protect our users and customers from having their data used against them and take action against disinformation and misleading information relating to abortion services and other reproductive health services across all Alphabet platforms and products by:

a. The introduction of immediate privacy controls for all health-related activities, e.g. For example, searches for reproductive justice, gender-affirming care, and abortion access information on Google should never be stored, turned over to law enforcement, or treated as a criminal offense.

b. Fix misleading search results related to abortion services by removing results for fake abortion providers.

c. Stop collaborating with publishers of abortion-related disinformation that violate AdSense publisher policies regarding unreliable and harmful claims about a major health crisis.

i.e. Transparency in ad revenue sharing with Google Custom Search so abortion services that pay for Google ads don’t inadvertently give their ad revenue to organizations that actively work against them.

To meet these demands, we are asking Alphabet to establish a dedicated task force with 50% employee representation that will be responsible for implementing changes across all products and our business, just as Alphabet has for managing the COVID-19 pandemic has done.

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