I used to Work for Google. I am a Conscientious Objector

654 words | 3 page(s)

Jack Poulson’s article published in The New York Times, titled “I used to Work for Google. I am a Conscientious Objector” is an argument for worker protections against tech firms that engage in controversial projects. The author is a former Google employee who raised concerns about Google working with the Chinese government. The project, which was called Project Dragonfly, was to create a search engine that would both censor content, and allow the Chinese government to conduct surveillance on its users. The author raised concerns about Project Dragonfly to the press, and then he was pressured to resign by Google. When he left, they told him that his politics were fine, but the reason they were asking him to resign was because he talked to the press, which made him a whistleblower.

The author then spends time describing how Google’s defense was that this type of technology was already being used by governments, so they said there was no harm. Poulson then discusses other tech companies, such as Cisco and Yahoo, that have also faced complaints from employees about unethical projects or working conditions.

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The main argument that Poulson is making is that employees often have little protections against being forced to work on projects they find unethical. This argument is made with the main Google example, as well as the Cisco and Yahoo examples. He then discusses what types of protections seem to be the most effective. To make this point, he discusses how her 20,000 Google employees did a walk out during work hours in November of 2018, when one top Google executive was given $90 million to retire after facing sexual harassment charges. This made the company agree to review further policies, but this was the only change that was successful. However, Poulson seems to think that organizing protests is the most effective way for workers to protect themselves. Whistle-blowing is dangerous for employees because they can easily lose their job, so there is strength in numbers.

Overall, Poulson’s argument is effective but it only shows one side of the issue. The article does not consider the tech companies’ side, or paints it in such a way that it would automatically seem unethical to the average reader. This may indeed be true, but the problem with ethics is that sometimes it can be debatable and more along the lines of political opinion. This is where it can become a gray area. Some ethics, such as working with companies that violate human rights or exploit workers, are agreed upon by most. However, someone else may think that working with companies that only pay minimum wage is exploitative, or that working for any military, including the US military, is automatically unethical. This could raise problems when defining what rights employees should have regarding working on projects they do not agree with. In most instances, as long as it is not illegal, a company also has the right to work on whatever projects it wishes to, even if this might be considered unethical. If employees refuse to work, then it would seem reasonable that they could be fired for refusing. Therefore, Poulson’s argument is convincing as far as stating this is an issue that should be looked at. However, it does not convince the reader absolutely that the worker should have the right to refuse any type of work that he or she claims is unethical. In this case, it would seem that our view of the Chinese government’s surveillance techniques are unethical, because they offend the right to privacy in a free society. China is communist, so they do not have the same concerns. Poulson was right to refuse working on this project, but this did not give him the right to keep working at Google.  

  • Poulson, Jack. “I used to work for Google. Now I am a conscientious objector.” The New York Times, April 23, 2019. Accessible online at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/23/opinion/google-privacy-china.html

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