The Angry Mob Within Google

Andy Rubin is the guy who invented Android software, which may not mean a whole lot to you but likely meant a great deal to Google, because money. And so when he left, it was with warm words of thanks and a more substantive show of appreciation.

Google gave Andy Rubin, the creator of Android mobile software, a hero’s farewell when he left the company in October 2014.

“I want to wish Andy all the best with what’s next,” Larry Page, Google’s chief executive then, said in a public statement. “With Android he created something truly remarkable — with a billion-plus happy users.”

And, according to the Times, a golden handshake.

[T]he company handed him a $90 million exit package, paid in installments of about $2 million a month for four years, said two people with knowledge of the terms. The last payment is scheduled for next month.

Enough to keep Rubin in mocha frappuccinos, not that he was dying of thirst. And the crowd went wild, but not in a good way.

At Google’s weekly staff meeting on Thursday, the top question that employees voted to ask Larry Page, a co-founder, and Sundar Pichai, the chief executive, was one about sexual harassment.

“Multiple company actions strongly indicate that protection of powerful abusers is literally and figuratively more valuable to the company than the well-being of their victims,” read the question, which was displayed at the meeting, according to people who attended. “What concrete and meaningful actions will be taken to turn this around?”

This arose from news of the Rubin payout, as Andy Rubin may have contributed billions to Google, and thus to the not-insignificant paychecks of its googlers, but his departure was not without controversy.

The query was part of an outpouring from Google employees after a New York Times article published on Thursday reported how the company had paid millions of dollars in exit packages to male executives accused of misconduct and stayed silent about their transgressions. In the case of Andy Rubin, the creator of Android mobile software, the company gave him a $90 million exit package even after Google had concluded that a misconduct claim against him was credible.

Rubin, in the meantime, denied that his package was $90 million, not that the amount of money was more than salt in the wound. The problem for employees at Google was that the company didn’t use its financial clout to promote their feelings.

The employee rebuke played out on Thursday and Friday in company meetings and on internal message boards and social networks, as well as on Twitter. Jaana Dogan, who works in Google Cloud, the company’s cloud computing business, tweeted, “If you are worth of millions of dollars, you should be able to show the door to authoritarian governments and serial abusers. If not now, then when?”

Another Google employee, Sanette Tanaka Sloan, also posted on Twitter that the way Google had handled Mr. Rubin’s misconduct claim was “crushing.” She added, “We can do so much better.”

Whether an accusation is “found credible,” that’s a far cry from proven, a minor detail that seems to elude those who go with “believe” rather than prove before demanding summary execution. And Rubin denies having engaged in sexual misconduct.

Mr. Rubin said in a statement after the publication of this article. “Specifically, I never coerced a woman to have sex in a hotel room. These false allegations are part of a smear campaign by my ex-wife to disparage me during a divorce and custody battle.”

Regardless, Google remains a business, and had Rubin been fired and sent packing, would have not only found itself in the position of having the people who created huge things like Android see it as a dangerous place to be, but embroiled in nasty and expensive litigation.

In settling on terms favorable to two of the men, Google protected its own interests. The company avoided messy and costly legal fights, and kept them from working for rivals as part of the separation agreements.

But the googlers, concerned only with their religion, were outraged at what they considered a betrayal of their feelings. But the irony is that the climate at Google wasn’t about Victorian prudism or fragile women from the outset.

Google, founded in 1998 by Mr. Page and Sergey Brin when they were Stanford University graduate students, fostered a permissive workplace culture from the start.

And pretty much all the big guys at Google had unseemly dalliances of varying degrees of peculiarity, not to mention legality. Rubin, apparently, fit right in, and made Google tons of money.

Search had positioned Google as a dominant player on desktop computers, but Android extended its reach and put Google’s maps, email and web browser on devices that people carry every day. The ads and mobile apps running on Android also generated tens of billions of dollars in profit.

That success gave Mr. Rubin more latitude than most Google executives, said four people who worked with him.

Things change, however, and the sexually permissive atmosphere of Google and the people who made it fabulously wealthy and successful are now subject to the anger and outrage of employees who believe their feelings of propriety have been neglected by the company, which should act in ways clearly detrimental to the company’s financial interests rather than demonstrate that it reflects their feelings.

All of which presents an interesting dilemma as the early tech companies fueled by geeky excess and impropriety find themselves operating in the moment of #MeToo and hurt feelings: spewing the rhetoric of emotional well-being of its sensitive employees is easy, but when it comes at the cost of spurning the profitability of someone who created Android, even Google has to make a judgment call.

If they want the technology, and the money it brings, from people who fail to meet the current standards of sexual propriety, or at least are believed to fail, are they prepared to put feelings over profit? What’s a business, even one as fabulously successful as Google, to do these days?

12 thoughts on “The Angry Mob Within Google

      1. Forbes

        Good lord, isn’t it clear they already promote a culture of political correctness. Doesn’t the story surrounding the James Damore firing reflect that?

        And what, pray tell, is a sexually permissive atmosphere in the workplace? Were employees having sex in the bathroom during the work day? Or only after hours? I.e., that sexual/dating/romantic relationships among employees were occurring? (Like every other large employer.)

        The NYT story is fascinating. Apparently, only men have extramarital affairs–the women engaging in relationships with married men are entirely innocent of their conduct.

        More popcorn please, as the MeToo new Puritans compete with their fellow prog-lefty libertines over how retched the patriarchy is, yet new protections are needed more than ever as helpless women are constantly taken advantage of.

  1. Rich

    An open source project derived from THE MOTHER OF ALL open source projects.
    Andy always deserved the lion’s share of the credit
    Acquisitive projective identification displayed under the notion Andy and his ilk would have taken “their” ideas to another less repressive playground had they not been motivated by money.
    Who would have thought so many self-described schizoid and schizotypal types had so much interest in sexy

  2. Anonymous Coward

    Between the demands to blindly believe accusers (at least from the right team against the wrong team) and the rampaging mobs it’s starting to feel like a horrible combination of the Salem witch trials and the Cultural Revolution out there.
    Will this new hostility towards men cause a tech company brain drain as engineers realize they are one vengeful co-worker away from professional ruin?

    1. SHG Post author

      When google started, sexual freedom was kind of a big thing for geeky (and suddenly fabulously wealthy) coders. Now it has to decide whether to live up to its pledge of wokiosity toward women or be geeky, as both can’t seem to co-exist.

      1. deadcenter

        Google needs to either live up to their corporate motto, “don’t be evil”, or pursue the almighty dollar. They’ve chosen the latter by building a censorious search engine for epitome of evil, totalitarian Chinese government. Put up, or shut up, or admit you too are an evil capitalist and change the motto, “don’t be evil unless it helps the bottom line.” I don’t care which, I’m just tired of their blatant hypocrisy.

        1. Patrick Maupin

          I didn’t realize you were in charge. Glad to see that you’re dividing the world into evil corporations and do-good non-profits.

  3. CharlieMack

    It always has been true that rich and powerful people (usually men) find many more willing sexual partners. Both sides of that have their own incentives. The woke are make this too confusing.

  4. BillG

    Just remember that the tech people want two things: Money for themselves, and totalitarian socialism for you. That explains 90% of the valley’s actions.

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