Novel Writing a No-No at Google: Lawsuit

Legal action also charges Google runs a 'spying program' against workers
By Linda Hervieux,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 22, 2016 7:21 AM CST
File photo of Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. The company's privacy policies are the subject of a lawsuit.   (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, FIle)

(Newser) – If you plan to write the Great American Novel and you work at Google, you may want to think again if the subject is the office. The tech giant is being sued over confidentiality policies that purportedly ban employees from, among other things, writing novels "about someone working at a tech company in Silicon Valley" without Google approval, the Guardian reports. The lawsuit, spotted by the Information, was filed this week by an unnamed product manager (on behalf of all Googlers) who takes issue with Google's "illegal confidentiality agreements, policies, guidelines, and practices." The upshot of the legal action is that it maintains the company's definition of confidential info is so broad that it violates California and federal free speech laws, and hinders Google employees in very real ways.

Follow the policies to the letter, and you can't speak to your spouse about "whether [you] think [your] boss could do a better job," or employ all the skills learned at Google at your next job, the suit claims. More egregiously, it alleges the policies bar employees from telling government regulators, attorneys, or the press about any "wrongdoing." That includes sending an email that says, "I think we violated this contract," notes SFist. The Guardian notes that if the worker prevails, 75% of the penalty would go to the state coffers, with the rest shared by Google employees. That ceiling for the penalty is nearly $4 billion. Google called the suit "baseless" and says in a statement that "transparency is a huge part of our culture. Our employee confidentiality requirements are designed to protect proprietary business information." (Here's what every state was Googling in 2016.)

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