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谷歌:透明度不断下降,内部矛盾日趋显现

这家有着21年历史的公司体量已经太大,原先的作法已经不再适用。

每天早上,谷歌员工都会收到一封名为“每日知情人”的内部通讯。谷歌顶级律师肯特·沃克在2019年11月14日的通讯上称,根据谷歌的规定,其员工可访问几乎所有内部文件,但这家有着21年历史的公司已经发展的足够大,不再适用这一规定。这一观点在谷歌引发了轩然大波。沃克写道:“当我们还是一家小公司时,我们是一个团队,为某一款产品而通力合作,而且所有人都了解业务决策的制定流程。但为一家有着超过10万名员工的公司解释所有事情的来龙去脉并非易事。”

很多大型公司都有相关规定,会按照“所需了解”的级别来限制员工访问敏感信息。但在谷歌的某些部门,员工对沃克观点的反应十分直接和尖锐。在一个内部信息论坛上,一位雇员将数据规定描述为“谷歌文化的整体崩塌。”一位工程经理围绕沃克的留言进行了长篇大论的反驳。他将沃克的观点称之为“傲慢而且幼稚”。这位经理写道,“所需了解”规定“在某种程度上是对我们的不信任和不尊重,但信任和尊重是谷歌员工内在工作动力的重要组成部分。”

这类抱怨还转化成了直接行动。两位知情人士透露,谷歌的一组程序员打造了一款工具,能够让雇员每次打开任何文件时选择是否通过自动邮件给沃克发送提醒信息。他们看到,沃克坚持要控制其职业生活的方方面面,而这种狂轰滥炸式的通知便是他们的抗议。

谷歌女发言人在一封邮件中写道:“说到数据安全政策,我们从未打算防止雇员分享技术知识和信息,而且我们也没有限制任何人表达自己的顾虑或对公司的活动进行辩论。我们有责任保障我们的用户、企业和客户信息的安全,因此这些活动在开展时需要遵守公司有关数据安全的规定。”

这些行动只不过是反映公司内部矛盾的最新事件,而这一矛盾已经持续了近两年的时间。约2万名雇员在2018年秋天走上街头,抗议谷歌宽大处理被指控性骚扰的高管;有一小部分人因谷歌为美国军队研发产品而辞职。去年年初,谷歌聘请了帮助雇主应对有组织员工行为的咨询公司IRI Consultants,并于最近解雇了四名违反其敏感数据访问规定的雇员。

我们难以衡量谷歌雇员反抗的程度,公司曾经试图将其描述为公司低级别员工的少数错误行为。公司的信息板上也并非全都是抗议性质的留言。一名员工在经彭博新闻信息委员会审核的内部信息中写道:“当我们走进工作场所时,我们希望专注于工作,而不是隔几天就得应对新一轮的不满情绪,以及就赞成或反对谷歌的最新项目投票。”

然而,公司似乎陷入了矛盾升级的循环。沃克的内部批评者们称,谷歌最突出的特色在于其内部极度透明,但沃克于去年11月14日发送的邮件是对该特征的大范围蚕食。为此,我们采访了十多名现任和前任雇员,并查看了在彭博新闻上分享的内部信息(前提是不公布发表信息的雇员姓名),结果发现,这一矛盾还凸显了谷歌领导层与某些雇员之间的不信任感。

在矛盾出现之际,谷歌也出现了其他方面的变化。2019年12月3日,于2015年开始担任谷歌首席执行官的桑达尔·皮查伊成为了其母公司Alphabet的掌门人。他的升任标志着谢尔盖·布林和拉里·佩吉活跃时期的结束,这两位在创建谷歌的时候便打造了公司独特的文化,当时他们还只是斯坦福的研究生。

皮查伊有时候会支持内部行动主义。他曾在雇员抗议特朗普政府移民政策的集会上讲话,也曾就谷歌在性骚扰方面的不良过往记录向员工道歉。他的高管团队曾多次与公司军用产品的批评者们进行会面。一位在谷歌工作的人士表示,一些谷歌经理开始发出信号,他们甚至在员工们被开除之前便已经对内部行动主义失去了耐心。其中一位雇员称,高管们已经有很多周都未与持不同意见的员工领导团体座谈。

尽管沃克在“每日知情人士”中写道,各大公司都会随着其发展而发生变化,但他同时还认为,他所描述的这些规定一直都是存在的。他写道:“自谷歌创立初期就是这个样子,目前也是。”这一点让一些在谷歌长期工作的员工感到尤为愤怒。他们在内部信息平台上说,沃克的评论与他们自己的记忆不符。对于其中的一些人来说,这一事件说明他们对领导力的信任出现了大范围的崩塌。

谷歌技术项目经理布鲁斯·哈尼说:“我希望管理层能够无话不谈,也就是披露真相,除了真相就是真相。但我觉得当前并非如此。”

51岁的哈尼并不符合谷歌管理层内部抗议者的特征描述。他于2005年,也就是在皮查伊加入一年之后,来到了谷歌,部分原因在于他对谷歌“整理全球信息”的使命十分感兴趣。由于公司面临着大量的争议,他的这一理想进展得十分缓慢。哈尼在一篇线上文章中将谷歌比作流氓机器,“最初的想法是好的,但其精神却已经腐化,变得十分有害”,类似于电影《2001 太空漫游》里的人工智能电脑Hal 9000。哈尼写道:“你不会把流氓机器当作家人,相反,你会制定一个计划,让机器停止运转或卸掉出现问题的部件,同时你会尝试对机器进行重新编程,以服务其最初的目的。”

20年前,也就是谷歌成立之初,公司制定了一个不同寻常的企业举措。几乎所有其内部文件都可供广泛的员工查看。例如,从事谷歌搜索引擎工作的编程人员会研究谷歌地图的软件构架,来寻找一些简练的代码区块,从而修复漏洞或复制某个功能。雇员还可以访问头脑风暴环节的笔记、坦率的项目评估、计算机设计文件和策略业务规划。(这种公开性并不适用于敏感数据,例如用户信息。)

这一理念源于开源软件开发,也就是更广泛的编程社区相互合作,打造可供任何人更改和完善的免费代码。这一理念可带来技术优势。去年7月从谷歌辞职的软件工程师约翰·斯彭说:“这种内部相互关联的工作方式是谷歌取得今日成就的必要元素之一。”

从2015年开始,谷歌才将其开放度作为一种招聘工具和公共关系策略。谷歌人力关系负责人拉兹罗·波克在当年的采访中表示:“透明度贯穿我们的一切所作所为。”他指出,员工可以直接访问软件文档,并称雇员“有义务让他人知道自身的存在。”

事实证明,谷歌的公开系统对于公司内部的行动主义者来说亦十分有用。他们会在系统中查找具有争议的产品开发,然后将其发现在同事中公布。这类调查对于抗议五角大楼的项目发挥了异常重要的作用。参与该研究的一些人将其称之为“内部新闻报道”。

管理层则对其有不同的看法。去年11月,谷歌开除了四名工程师,称其一直在开展“有关其他雇员材料和成果的系统搜索。其中包括搜寻、评估和交付其工作范围之外的商业信息”。工程师们则称自己正在积极开展内部活动,反对谷歌为美国海关和边境保护局提供服务,并否认违反公司的数据安全规定。

其中一名被解雇的雇员瑞贝卡·瑞福斯表示,她最初登上了谷歌的局域网(一个面向所有员工开放的门户网站),然后输入术语:“CBP”和“GCP”(谷歌云平台)。她说:“就是这么简单,任何人都很容易碰到这类问题。”

在一封阐述此次解雇事件的内部邮件中,谷歌指控一名雇员在未获得允许的情况下跟踪一名同事的待办事项,搜集有关其个人和职业会面的信息,而且其采用的方式让目标雇员感到不适。最近遭解雇的其中一名雇员劳伦斯·柏兰德承认自己曾经访问了内部待办事项,但他称这些事项并非私人事项。他使用这些证据来证实自己的一个疑虑:谷歌一直在审查和“协同暗中监视”行动主义雇员。柏兰德最初于2005年加入谷歌,他称自己感觉公司一直在惩罚他,因为他违反了公司的规定,但这个规定在公司称其违反规定时并不存在。

谷歌拒绝透露四名被解雇雇员的姓名,但公司的一名女发言人表示,跟踪待办事项的那位员工访问了未经授权的信息。

其他雇员称,他们如今不敢查看来自于其他团队或部门的某些文件,因为他们担心随后会因此而受到责备,但公司称这个担忧毫无根据。一些员工认为,这些规定实际上是用来平息针对某些项目的批评声音,他们称这一举措违反了公司的行为准则。这些雇员援引了准则中旨在积极鼓励不同声音的条款:“不要存有恶意,如果你发现你认为不恰当的事情,请说出来!”哈尼说,员工们正在“尝试在内部通报一些问题事件,但在某些情况下,公司并不允许员工利用和发布这些信息。”他说,“恐惧的气氛”目前笼罩着谷歌。

谷歌自由的职场文化是硅谷就业的金字招牌,但透明度却不是家家公司都有。苹果和亚马逊则要求员工严格按照自己的职责行事,以防止敏感项目的细节被泄露给竞争对手。打造手机摄像头的工程师可能并不清楚操作系统开发部门的工作内容,反之亦然。对于政府承包商,以及自身客户对灵活性有要求的公司来说,类似的限制也都十分常见。

谷歌的业务运营细节通常对于保密的要求没有这么高,但这一现象正在发生变化,尤其是谷歌云业务,因为它得说服商业客户自己能够保护好敏感数据,并从事不连续的项目。这一点也让其逐渐向其注重保密的竞争对手靠拢。抗议本身也引发了新的限制,因为高管们已经在寻求削减公司认为被用于不当用途的行动主义者工具。

谷歌的领导者承认,对已经沿用了20多年的文化进行调整是一件很微妙的事情。谷歌前首席执行官兼董事长埃里克·施密德在去年10月斯坦福大学的一场活动中称:“如今的雇员在公司治理方面越来越活跃。”

哈佛商学院的一位领导和管理学教授艾米·埃德蒙森称,随着公司采用更多的传统企业举措,面对那些充满疑虑的雇员,谷歌理想化的历史增加了其高管的负担。她说:“如果你要开展一些会被认为是变化的举措,对其进行解释真的很重要。”

谷歌前任人力资源总监、职场软件初创企业Humu现任首席执行官波克认为谷歌在这一方面并未获得成功。他在给彭博新闻的一封邮件中写道:“可能Alphabet与过去相比发生了很多变化,但并非所有人都能理解这一点。” (财富中文网)

译者:冯丰

审校:夏林

Each morning, workers at Google get an internal newsletter called the “Daily Insider.” Kent Walker, Google’s top lawyer, set off a firestorm when he argued in the Nov. 14 edition that the 21-year old company had outgrown its policy of allowing workers to access nearly any internal document. “When we were smaller, we all worked as one team, on one product, and everyone understood how business decisions were made,” Walker wrote. “It’s harder to give a company of over 100,000 people the full context on everything.”

Many large companies have policies restricting access to sensitive information to a “need-to-know” basis. But in some segments of Google’s workforce, the reaction to Walker’s argument was immediate and harsh. On an internal messaging forum, one employee described the data policy as “a total collapse of Google culture.” An engineering manager posted a lengthy attack on Walker’s note, which he called “arrogant and infantilizing.” The need-to-know policy “denies us a form of trust and respect that is again an important part of the intrinsic motivation to work here,” the manager wrote.

The complaining also spilled into direct action. A group of Google programmers created a tool that allowed employees to choose to alert Walker with an automated email every time they opened any document at all, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. The deluge of notifications was meant as a protest to what they saw as Walker’s insistence on controlling the minutiae of their professional lives.

“When it comes to data security policies, we’ve never intended to prevent employees from sharing technical learnings and information and we are not limiting anyone’s ability to raise concerns or debate the company’s activities,” said a Google spokeswoman in an email. “We have a responsibility to safeguard our user, business and customer information and these activities need to be done in line with our policies on data security.”

The actions are just the latest chapter in an internal conflict that has been going on for almost two years. About 20,000 employees walked out at 2018 fall over the company’s generous treatment of executives accused of sexual harassment, and a handful quit over Google’s work on products for the U.S. military. Earlier last year, Google hired IRI Consultants, a firm that advises employers on how to combat labor organizing, and it recently fired four employees for violating its policies on accessing sensitive data.

The extent of Google’s employee rebellion is hard to measure—the company has tried to portray it as the work of a handful of malcontents from the company’s junior ranks. Nor are the company’s message boards unilaterally supportive of revolt. “We want to focus on our jobs when we come into the workplace rather than deal with a new cycle of outrage every few days or vote on petitions for or against Google’s latest project,” wrote one employee on an internal message board viewed by Bloomberg News.

Still, the company seems stuck in a cycle of escalation. Walker’s internal critics say his Nov. 14 email is part of a broader erosion of one of Google’s most distinctive traits—its extreme internal transparency. The fight also illustrates the lack of trust between Google’s leadership and some of its employees, according to interviews with over a dozen current and former employees, as well as internal messages shared with Bloomberg News on the condition it not publish the names of employees who participated.

The conflict comes as Google is changing in other ways, too. On Dec. 3, Sundar Pichai, who took over as Google’s chief executive office in 2015, became the head of Alphabet, its parent company. His elevation marks the end of the active involvement of Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who established Google’s distinctive culture when they founded the company as Stanford graduate students.

Pichai has at times supported internal activism. He spoke at an employee protest against the Trump administration’s immigration policies and apologized to employees for Google’s track record on sexual harassment. His executives met repeatedly with critics of the company’s military work. Some Google managers began signaling that they’re losing patience with internal activism even before the firings, according to one person who worked with them. Executives have not met with dissenting staff leadership in many weeks, according to one of the employees.

While Walker wrote in the “Daily Insider” that organizations have to change as they grow, he simultaneously argued that the policies he described had always existed. “It was that way since the early days of Google, and it’s that way now,” he wrote. This particularly offended several long-time Googlers, who said on internal message boards that Walker’s comments didn’t square with their own memories. For some of them, the incident illustrated a broader breakdown in their trust of leadership.

“I want to believe that executive management is saying everything—disclosing the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” said Bruce Hahne, a Google technical project manager. “I don’t think we are currently under those conditions.”

Hahne, 51, doesn’t meet the Google management’s profile of internal protestors. He joined the company in 2005, a year after Pichai, partly because he was attracted to its mission to organize the world’s information. His disillusionment crept in gradually during the company’s myriad controversies. In an online essay, Hahne compared Google to a “rogue machine” that was “originally created for good but whose psyche has turned corrupt and destructive,” much like Hal 9000 from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. “You don’t treat a rogue machine like family,” wrote Hahne, “instead you come up with a plan, you disable or dismantle the dysfunctional parts of the machine, and you seek to reprogram the machine to serve its original purpose.”

When it was founded two decades ago, Google established an unusual corporate practice. Nearly all of its internal documents were widely available for workers to review. A programmer working on Google search could for instance, dip into the software scaffolding of Google Maps to crib some elegant block of code to fix a bug or replicate a feature. Employees also had access to notes taken during brainstorming sessions, candid project evaluations, computer design documents, and strategic business plans. (The openness doesn’t apply to sensitive data such as user information.)

The idea came from open-source software development, where the broader programming community collaborates to create code by making it freely available to anyone with ideas to alter and improve it. The philosophy came with technical advantages. “That interconnected way of working is an integral part of what got Google to where it is now,” said John Spong, a software engineer who worked at Google until last July.

Google has flaunted its openness as a recruiting tool and public relations tactic as recently as 2015. “As for transparency, it’s part of everything we do,” Laszlo Bock, then the head of Google human relations, said in an interview that year. He cited the immediate access staff have to software documentation, and said employees “have an obligation to make their voices heard.”

Google’s open systems also proved valuable for activists within the company, who have examined its systems for evidence of controversial product developments and then circulated their findings among colleagues. Such investigations have been integral to campaigns against the projects for the Pentagon. Some people involved in this research refer to it as “internal journalism.”

Management would describe it differently. In November, Google fired four engineers who it said had been carrying out “systematic searches for other employees’ materials and work. This includes searching for, accessing, and distributing business information outside the scope of their jobs.” The engineers said they were active in an internal campaign against Google’s work with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and denied violating the company’s data security policies.

Rebecca Rivers, one of the fired employees, said she initially logged into Google’s intranet, a web portal open to all staff, and typed the terms: “CBP” and “GCP,” for Google Cloud Platform. “That’s how simple it was,” she said. “Anyone could have stumbled onto it easily,” she said.

In an internal email describing the firings, Google accused one employee of tracking a colleague’s calendar without permission, gathering information about both personal and professional appointments in a way that made the targeted employee feel uncomfortable. Laurence Berland, one of the employees who was fired recently, acknowledged he had accessed internal calendars, but said they were not private. He used them to confirm his suspicions that the company was censoring and “coordinating to spy on” activist employees. Berland, who first joined Google in 2005, added that he felt the company was punishing him for breaking a rule that didn’t exist at the time of the alleged violations.

Google declined to identify the four employees it fired, but a company spokeswoman said the person who tracked calendars accessed unauthorized information.

Other employees say they are now afraid to click on certain documents from other teams or departments because they are worried they could later be disciplined for doing so, a fear the company says is unfounded. Some workers have interpreted the policies as an attempt to stifle criticism of particular projects, which they allege amounts to a violation of the company’s code of conduct. These employees point to a clause in the code that actively encourages dissent: “Don’t be evil, and if you see something that you think isn’t right—speak up!” Workers are "trying to report internally on problematic situations, and in some cases are not being allowed to make that information useful and accessible,” said Hahne. There is now a “climate of fear” inside Google offices, he said.

Google’s permissive workplace culture became the prime example of Silicon Valley’s brand of employment. But transparency is hardly universal. Apple and Amazon demand that workers operate in rigid silos to keep the details of sensitive projects from leaking to competitors. Engineers building a phone’s camera may have no idea what the people building its operating system are doing, and vice versa. Similar restrictions are common at government contractors and other companies working with clients who demand discretion.

The specifics of Google’s business operations traditionally haven’t required this level of secrecy, but that is changing. Google’s cloud business in particular requires it to convince business clients it can handle sensitive data and work on discrete projects. This has brought it more in line with its secrecy-minded competitors. The protests themselves have also inspired new restrictions, as executives have looked to cut off the tools of the activists it argues are operating in bad faith.

Google’s leaders have acknowledged the delicacy of adjusting a culture that has entrenched itself over two decades. “Employees today are much, much more active in the governance in the company,” Eric Schmidt, Google’s former CEO and chair, said at an event at Stanford University in October.

Amy Edmonson, a professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School, said that Google’s idealistic history increases the burden on its executives to bring along reluctant employees as it adopts more conventional corporate practices. “It’s just really important that if you’re going to do something that is perceived as change that you’re going to explain it,” she said.

Bock, the company’s former HR director who is now CEO of Humu, a workplace software startup, suggested that Google hasn’t succeeded here. “Maybe Alphabet is just a different company than it used to be,” he wrote in an email to Bloomberg News. “But not everyone’s gotten the memo.”

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