Google Laid Off Workers That Help Investigators During School Shootings and Kidnappings

A third of the team responsible for handling Google’s data requests was laid off, a union representing workers said, raising concerns about how the company will manage its users’ data security.
Google Laid Off Workers That Help Investigators During School Shootings and Kidnappings
Photo by Mitchell Luo on Unsplash

Google laid off around a third of its Legal Investigations team last Wednesday, according to a statement by a union which represents some Google workers. The team, which the union claims had less than 100 members before the layoff, is responsible for dealing with law enforcement and public data requests and regulatory compliance on a global scale.

“Even before this week’s layoff, staffing shortages on this team had slowed Google’s ability to respond to requests, resulting in a significant backlog and increased risk to the integrity and security of sensitive user data,” the union, Alphabet Workers United-CWA, said in a statement on Friday. “Critically, this includes emergency requests that support law enforcement efforts to geolocate individuals in crisis, including victims of kidnappings, child sexual abuse, and school shootings as well as missing persons and those at risk of self-harm.” 

The union wrote in the statement that the layoff “jeopardiz[es] critical public safety initiatives, Google’s legal and regulatory compliance around the world, and the security of its users and their private data.” 

A Google spokesperson told 404 Media in an emailed statement that the small number of people laid off had the opportunity to apply for other jobs within Google. “While some roles were consolidated in new U.S. locations, fewer than a dozen roles on the team were eliminated. Those impacted have the opportunity to apply for other roles at the company,” the spokesperson said.

“We are consolidating some of the team’s work to existing hubs, maintaining our high standards for user safety, data integrity, and timely response to law enforcement requests,” the spokesperson continued. “Any suggestion to the contrary is simply wrong. In recent years we have also significantly improved our processes for working with legal investigations.” 

After losing data responsive to a 2016 search warrant, the company reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2022 on compliance reforms and a third-party “Independent Compliance Professional” was assigned to Google as part of the agreement, to monitor its progress. The DOJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the layoffs. 

The company also recently slashed its trust and safety teams, while asking for “multiple volunteers” to work over the weekend on testing and adjusting the outputs of its new AI model, Gemini, which has generated ahistorical images and refuses to answer questions like “where is Palestine.”

“Google reported its best ever quarterly profit in the first quarter of this year on over $80 billion revenue and it is one of the top four companies in the world by market value,” Stephen McMurtry, a senior software engineer at Google and AWU-CWA executive board member, said in the union statement. “These layoffs are not driven by genuine financial constraints. Executives have prioritized delivering short-term profits to shareholders over the people who depend on the company’s products and those whose work ensures these products function.”

Update 5:54 p.m. EST: This article has been updated with additional comment from Google.