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Google Walkout Leader Meredith Whittaker Leaves the Company

by Ivana Vojinovic

Meredith Whittaker, the Google employee who helped lead the protests against the tech giant’s involvement with the military, its handling of AI ethics, and its sexual harassment policies, has left the company.

The news of Whittaker’s departure from the company was first reported by Bloomberg after Google’s Software Engineer Chris Lu tweeted about it yesterday. Without providing additional comments, Google confirmed to TechCrunch that she had left the organization.

“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” Lu posted on Monday.

Whittaker was a program manager at Google, co-founder of the AI Now Institute, an ethics committee affiliated with New York University, and the founder of Google’s Open Research Group, which focuses on AI development.

While employed by the search engine company, she was a vocal advocate for change and spoke out publically every time she felt ethical boundaries were being crossed.

Last year when word got out that Google was collaborating with the Department of Defense on the controversial Project Maven, helping it develop AI tools to analyze drone footage, Whittaker spoke up about it, condemning such practices.

This led to a few employees leaving the company and incited a very negative public reaction. In response to these events, the tech firm published its AI Principles in June 2018 which prevented it from renewing its $10 billion contract with the Pentagon.

Whittaker also pushed back in November 2018 when it was revealed that, despite credible sexual harassment allegations, Android co-creator Andy Rubin had received a $90 million payout package from Google.

The event sparked a much broader conversation about the way the company handles sexual harassment allegations. Together with her co-worker Claire Stapleton, Whittaker helped organize last year’s “Google Walkout for Change”, in which 20,000 employees worldwide took part.

Even though following the protests Google had ended its practice of forced arbitration for sexual harassment and assault cases, which required employees to waive their legal rights, Stapleton and Whittaker fell victims of retaliation.

Stapleton was the first to quit, in April 2019. In a post explaining her decision to leave Google, she wrote “I made the choice after the heads of my department branded me with a kind of scarlet letter that makes it difficult to do my job or find another one. If I stayed, I didn’t just worry that there’d be more public flogging, shunning, and stress, I expected it.”

After Stapelton’s departure, Whittaker once again spoke her mind about the way Google intimidates those who try to openly discuss the dark side of power associated with big tech. She tweeted “Google’s retaliation isn’t about me, or @clairewaves. It’s about silencing dissent & making us afraid to speak honestly about tech & power. NOT OK. Now more than ever, it’s time to speak up.”

Whittaker could not be reached for comments at this time.

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