Meredith Whittaker who played a major role in Google’s Walkout last year is leaving the company amid facing retaliation at work. The news was disclosed when a software engineer at Google posted a tweet about her last day.
Today is @mer__edith's final day at Google. Watching her experience as a whistleblower at Google and a victim of retaliation cannot signal good things for how AI institutions will react to negative criticism. #NotOkGoogle
— Chris Lu (@thegreenfrog611) July 15, 2019
A Google spokeswoman also confirmed Whittaker’s departure to Bloomberg. However, Whittaker has not yet shared the news on her Twitter account.
Last year in November, a global Google Walkout for Real Change was organized by Claire Stapleton, Meredith Whittaker and six other employees at the company. It prompted 20,000 Google employees and contractors to walk off the job opposing the company’s handling of sexual harassment allegations.
In April, Stapleton and Whittaker accused the company of retaliation against them over last year’s Google Walkout protest. Both their roles changed dramatically including calls to abandon AI ethics work, demotion, and more. After the announcement of Google disbanding it’s AI Ethics council, Whittaker said, she was informed that to remain at the company she will have to abandon her work on AI ethics and the AI Now Institute. She said that her manager told her in late December she would likely need to leave Google’s Cloud division. The same manager told her in March that the “Cloud division was seeking more revenue and that AI Now and her AI ethics work was no longer a fit. This was a strange request because the Cloud unit has a team working on ethical concerns related to AI.”
Similar retaliation was faced by Stapleton, who was told she would be demoted from her role as marketing manager at YouTube. “My manager started ignoring me, my work was given to other people, and I was told to go on medical leave, even though I’m not sick,” Following continuous counter-attacks, Stapelton was prompted to resign from her position last month.
i left google and here's my goodbye note 💛 https://t.co/RP4jFzEu6B
— claire stapleton (@clairewaves) June 7, 2019
Whittaker had then tweeted in her support.
.@clairewaves is a sister & a friend & truly wonderful human ♥️ By pushing her out, Google's trying to stop a movement. But that's not how it works — badge or no, Claire isn't going away, nor are the 1000s organizing across the company. 📣 Structural change IS coming to tech https://t.co/hy9pp12zOu
— Meredith Whittaker (@mer__edith) June 7, 2019
Whittaker had signed the petition protesting Google’s infamous Project Dragonfly, the secretive search engine that Google is allegedly developing which will comply with the Chinese rules of censorship.
Meredith Whittaker was also a leader in the anti-Maven movement. Google’s Project Maven, was focused on analyzing drone footage and could have been eventually used to improve drone strikes on the battlefield. More than 3,000 Google employees signed a petition against this project that led to Google deciding not to renew its contract with the U.S. Department of Defense in 2019. Google announced in June it would not renew the contract. Whittaker tweeted at the time that she was “incredibly happy about this decision, and have a deep respect for the many people who worked and risked to make it happen. Google should not be in the business of war.”
People have commented on how Meredith’s departure will only intensify activism at Google.
“The impact @mer__edith has in AI ethics is second to none. What happens to her at Google will be a gauge for the wellbeing of the entire field. Watch closely,” Moritz Hardt, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Berkeley University
The impact @mer__edith has in AI ethics is second to none. What happens to her at Google will be a gauge for the wellbeing of the entire field. Watch closely.
— Moritz Hardt (@mrtz) April 24, 2019
As political activism intensifies at Google, some of the company’s most visible activists are heading out the door. Two key walkout organizers are out now. And admin of [email protected] internal listserv was recently fired. https://t.co/NE6OWycRrM
— Alex Kantrowitz (@Kantrowitz) July 16, 2019
Liz Fong-Jones, Xoogler, who left Google over ethical concerns earlier this year, tweeted about the number of Google Walkout and other organizing leaders that have left the company. There are five who have left, Claire Stapleton, Meredith Whittaker, Liz Fong-Jones, Celie O’Neil-Hart, and Erica Anderson.
I think when you look at it percentage-wise, it gets quite stark…@GoogleWalkout: @clairewaves (gone), @tanuja822 (there), @mer__edith (gone), @celiehart (gone), @sparker2 (there), @EricaAmerica (gone), and @amrtgaber (there)
that doesn't even count me, Maven departures, etc
— Liz Fong-Jones (方禮真) (@lizthegrey) July 16, 2019