Former Google employee accuses company of retaliation

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A former Google employee says she was fired after creating an online notification tool that informed her co-workers about their rights to participate in labor organizing.

For nearly two years, Kathyrn Spiers worked on the platform security team focused on Google's Chrome browser, until her firing last week. She says she created the alert that popped up when employees visited the website of a union busting firm that the company recently hired.

"The users are really the ones at risk because billions of people trust their sensitive data with Google, and if no one's willing to speak up, how can users trust them?" said Spiers.

A Google spokesperson provided ABC7 News with a letter sent to staff Tuesday morning by company Vice President Royal Hansen, stating that Spiers misused a privacy and security tool to create a pop-up without a business justification.

"The decision to abuse the access she had as a Security Engineer was an unacceptable breach of a trusted responsibility," said Hansen.

But Spiers disputed Hansen's account of what took place and said: "I didn't abuse any privilege. I got all of the normal authorizations before submitting my code."

Some say Google might be paying the price for previously being vague in its earlier efforts to establish a company culture of openness.

"They have relied very heavily on phrases like 'do no evil' and encouraged a lot of exchanges in the workplace that aren't really about the topic of work," said Ann Skeet, senior director of leadership ethics at Santa Clara University's Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. "Those norms in this company are changing and people are struggling with those changes."

Spiers has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, and despite her firing, hopes to eventually be reinstated.

"I still believe that I can do good work at Google, and I believe that Google is uniquely positioned for me to have an impact on the security of the internet," said Spiers.
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