Google has been facing increasing pressure and criticism about its business practices for some time now, both from outside officials and inside the company. Recently, though, Google employees have been speaking out even more, from walkouts to public critiques that, to date, company leaders have taken in stride.
The most recent incident comes as Google engineers reportedly raised some concerns about how the company was “secretly tracking” the movements of people who did not want to be followed. This practice reportedly ended back in 2018 after an Associated Press story revealed what was called “shadow surveillance” of users.
So, why is a two-year-old story coming back around to create a PR issue for Google in the middle of 2020? Because of a lawsuit happening in Arizona, which led to the unsealing of company files revealing that “Google knew it had a problem…” when the AP story revealed to readers that “Google continued to track users” even after the users “disabled the location history” feature.
The released documents show that Google leadership understood they had a serious PR problem on their hands, as well as how they tried to discuss what to do about it. One of the internal messages put it bluntly, as a company employee gathered their team together for what they called an “Oh, S—!” meeting. The meeting intended to discuss the company’s location tracking tools, but it was clear by the contextual clues in the messages that it wasn’t the software that was going to take a hit for this revelation.
And the revealed messages show that the negative comments started from within, with Google’s engineers taking company leadership to task over the issue. One message said: “I agree with the (AP) article… Location off should mean location off… Not except for this case or that case…”
Another engineer at the company added, “We aren’t very good at explaining this to users… it’s definitely confusing from a user point of view…”
News reports about these recent revelations have been called “embarrassing” for a company that largely managed to stay out of the regulatory and critical crosshairs that have repeatedly bitten some of their prominent big tech competition. For Google, though, the issue goes beyond embarrassment. The company has been working very hard for years to build trust with consumers through quality – mostly free – digital products and services.
By delivering value without too many issues, Google has become a favorite for consumers. However, if they believe the company has not been truthful with them or has not honored their wishes for privacy, they are likely to entertain other options. That issue, right there, is where PR and profits converge. Google has a hard road ahead, creating and promoting a narrative that gives the company confidence to their consumers and, internally, to their engineers.