Google is one of the most influential internet companies in the world and part of a tech conglomerate Alphabet. It is also a company whose employees have been quite vocal in their criticism of the executive order that was passed by Trump targetting immigrants. Sure, a lot of tech CEOs raised their voices against the order. We have a whole list here. But in the case of Google, it is not only the CEO, but also a co-founder, former CEO as well as the Google employees themselves, who have made their stand clear over the last few days.
Walking the talk
Pichai in an email to staff said the US ban on foreign nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries will hit at least 187 Google employees.
“We are upset about the impact of this order and any proposals that could impose restrictions on Googlers and their families, or that could create barriers to bringing great talent to the US,” the Wall Street Journal quoted Pichai as saying in the email. “It is painful to see the personal cost of this executive order on our colleagues,” he said.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin, whose family immigrated to the US in 1979 from the then Soviet Union, took part in the protests taking place at the San Francisco international airport. While protesting in his personal capacity, Brin said that he was protesting because he himself was a refugee.
Recently at a meeting with Google employees, Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Alphabet said “that the Trump administration is going to do evil things as they’ve done in the immigration area and perhaps some others.” Schmidt did say that the government is focussed on economic growth in his meeting with employees. He said that these ‘evil things’ will be done while keeping the focus on the growth rate in the US by increasing federal spending.
According to reports, there were about 2000 employees participating in the protest on 30 January, and these included Google top brass like Sundar Pichai and Sergey Brin, both of whom are technically immigrants.
Google has also set up a $4 million fund for immigrants. This fund includes $2 million contributed by Google’s own employees. All things point to the fact that Google employees, while not in the official capacity, are taking a political stand by their actions and gestures.
Wooing the Republicans
It is no secret that Google backed Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton during the Presidential elections. But the company has since been trying its best to get into the good books of the Trump administration as well. According to Bloomberg Google had sought a ‘DC veteran to act as liaison to conservative, libertarian and free market groups’.
Image: Reuters
Image: Reuters
However, Google / Alphabet have made it public whenever it has met with Trump. For instance, when Trump met with the top tech CEOs from Silicon Valley, Larry Page was present. More recently, even Eric Schmidt had met the president at the Trump Tower. According to Buzzfeed, Google states that it was better to work behind the scenes with the administration, rather than making statements which would antagonise people from the administration with whom Google / Alphabet has to work.
Schmidt has also stated to his employees that he did all he could in his power to dissuade the administration from taking an anti-globalisation and discriminatory stand on the immigration order, but nothing has come out of it.
Image: AP
Pichai has also tried to explain why it is counterproductive for Google as a company to take a stand officially. In a statement to Vice News, Pichai said, “If you publicly take a strong position, once they’ve identified you’re completely on one side, you lose the ability to come to a rational position. We get very strong reactions when we try to reach out to the other side. Taking public positions is productive in some cases, and counterproductive in others.” According to a New York Times report, Google also recently organised an event for Republican lawmakers.
Treading a fine line
While on the one hand Google and Alphabet employees are protesting against the controversial executive order, on the other hand, it is trying to be in the good books of the Trump administration as well. In doing so, Google and its parent company Alphabet are trying to find a right balance between its employees putting forth a resistance against unfair orders, at the same time not antagonising the government in the official capacity.
At the end of the day, a lot of Google and Alphabet’s projects require government co-operation. So it is treading a path which any profit-making institute would take.
Targetting immigrants from certain nations based on religious lines, specially when a lot of the top US companies have been built by immigrants, smacks of arrogance. It is then heartening to see employees of the Silicon Valley tech giants taking to the streets to protest against this unfair executive order.
Whether the companies or its employees would be punished for these protests, is something only time will tell. But if there are penalties to be paid, then that would set a wrong precedent.