Did Google Wipe Its Employee's Personal Phone?

Googler Rebecca Rivers
Screenshot: YouTube

Google has found itself at the center of considerable backlash once again, this time for placing two employees on administrative leave for uncertain reasons, as well as for contracting famous union-busting firm IRI. At a worker-led rally Friday morning on the company’s San Francisco campus, another revelation came to light: the cell phone of one recently disciplined employee was allegedly rendered mysteriously unusable.

“Two weeks ago yesterday, I received an email from my manager telling me that I would have a meeting with the Global Investigations team,” Rebecca Rivers, one of the two employees recently put on leave, said this morning. “At nearly the exact same time, my personal phone was either corrupted or wiped. Everything on my phone that was not backed up to the cloud is gone, including four months of my transition timeline photos, and I will never get those back.”

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While Rivers does not go so far as to explicitly claim that the incident is more than an unnerving coincidence, the implication appears to be that Google was behind the strange loss of data.

Rivers and fellow colleague Laurence Berland were both subject to internal investigations and discipline, according to an internal memo obtained earlier this week by CNBC’s Jennifer Elias. According to Google, both had violated company policies, with the clear implication that they had been press sources. Both Rivers and Berland have denied leaking internal Google information to the press.

In his speech today, Berland also claims the Global Investigations team were clear that he was not accused of leaking. Instead, Rivers and Berland, as well as many of the company’s activists, feel that company retaliation for prior organizing efforts is the true source of these unusual disciplinary measures. During his two-and-a-half hour meeting with Global Investigations, Berland said, “they wanted me to identify my co-workers who are coming together to improve our workplace—and I’m pretty sure that’s illegal.”

Rivers, according to other Google workers, was involved in crafting a memo urging the company to sever ties with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency brutally implementing the Trump administration’s nativist policies through deportations and detention camps. Berland was part of an attempt to have Google removed from the San Fransisco Pride Parade following the ugly battle between Vox journalist Carlos Maza and far-right talking head Steven Crowder which video subsidiary YouTube was exceptionally slow to weigh in on.

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According to Berland’s speech at today’s rally, while the news of IRI being hired on only broke this week, Google executives have been meeting with members of the firm since this spring. “You don’t hire consultants like that to help you decide if you’re going to crack down on your employees. You hire consultants like that because you’ve decided to crack down on your employees,” Berland said today. “Unfortunately for them, it isn’t working.”

We’ve reached out to Google to comment on these new details and will update if we hear back.

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We’ve corrected an earlier version which stated Berland and Rivers were accused of leaking. Though another engineer was fired for that reason around the same time, Google has not affirmatively stated as much.

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About the author

Bryan Menegus

Senior reporter. Tech + labor /// bgmwrites@gmail.com Keybase: keybase.io/bryangm Securedrop: http://gmg7jl25ony5g7ws.onion/

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