Last week, Vic Gundotra the man in charge of Google Plus, revealed that Google Plus will soon support pseudonyms and other forms of identity. The announcement marked a major victory for privacy advocates who had been vociferously protesting Google Plus’s “common name only” policy. However, the controversy might not yet be over.
It all started in July 2011 when Google began suspending accounts with fake names or pseudonyms. The move was widely criticized by privacy advocates like EFF, and gave birth to the Nymwars. In spite of the backlash from the press and the public, Vic Gundotra remained adamant that anonymity has no place in a social network. Nevertheless, over the weeks Google improved the suspension and enforcement process by introducing grace period before suspension and account verification for celebrities. Several Googlers also joined in on the debate and shared their views on Google Plus.
The cause for anonymity and privacy on the internet is an issue that Google employees obviously care deeply about. About 10% of Googlers had signed on a petition in support of pseudonyms before Google Plus’ launch, and their voice probably played a crucial hand in convincing the bosses at Google to change its policy. However, reports are now appearing that Google might be cracking down on employees sympathetic towards pseudonym advocates.
Earlier today, an anonymous submission on Hacker News read:
Word coming out is that one person was, just this week, put on an unexpected 60-day PIP (Performance Improvement Plan) for sharing opinions of the Real Names policy on internal G+. It’s likely that he’s been set up to fail. If this is accurate, and I believe it is, there’ll be more to tell in late December.
It’s worth noting that individual Googlers have shown nothing but support for this person as the story has developed.
Google using Performance Improvement Plan as a paper trail to fire employees is nothing new, and to be honest Google isn’t the only company that uses PIP as an excuse to fire employees. However, putting employees on PIP for sharing opinions on internal social network is definitely incompatible with Google’s Do No Evilmantra.
The Hacker News submission is anonymous and unverified, and could very well be complete fabrication. Unfortunately, this is not the first time someone has accused Google of punishing employees for being sympathetic towards anonymity supporters. Back in July, @skud highlighted circumstantial evidence that hinted at the usage of gag orders on employees.
Google is entirely within its rights to gag employees who criticize company policies in public. However, gagging and punishing employees who raise their voice internally, or attempt to offer a neutral and balanced point of view to the public (instead of blindly toeing the company line) might be taking things too far. Having a human face matters, and by being too strict Google might end up hurting itself.