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Google warned employees about accessing internal docs without permission

Google is historically known for maintaining an open internal culture that gives employees wide-ranging access to documents and code. A new report today details the latest effort by senior management at the company to balance security with a large and growing workforce.

According to BuzzFeed News, Google senior vice president and general counsel Kent Walker sent out a company-wide email last week titled “An important reminder on data classifications.” The Thursday message warned against accessing “need to know” documents without permission, and that employees could be fired for doing so. This warning about Google’s internal docs was odd for seemingly not being prompted by any known, recent event at the company.

In a follow-up today — as a possible clarification following BuzzFeed being made aware of the original email, Walker clarified that that termination only applied to instances of intentional data leaks, risks to user privacy, or harm to coworkers.

This warning comes in the context of increased employee activism following Project Maven and Dragonfly. The first was related to an initiative with the Department of Defense on using machine learning to analyze drone footage, while the latter was a possible re-entry into China with a censored Search engine.

Those activists responded to Walker’s email cautioning internal docs access by arguing that the “need to know” status at Google was vague and that files weren’t always marked, with management ultimately having the final say over classification.

The timing of the email announcement rattled employees who’ve been involved with organizing within the company’s ranks and who told BuzzFeed News they saw it as a blow to internal accountability mechanisms.

Other employee protests over the past year were centered on sexual misconduct and fighting to provide contract workers with equal benefits. Some have argued that Google responded to this activism by limiting the open culture, with others claiming workplace retaliation and organizing a sit-in.

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Avatar for Abner Li Abner Li

Editor-in-chief. Interested in the minutiae of Google and Alphabet. Tips/talk: