Ross LaJeunesse, a top executive at Google, was the face of the company’s human rights efforts. In an interview with The Washington Post, he says he was eventually forced out because of it.
When Google announced in 2010 that it would no longer censor search results for China, LaJeunesse was put in charge of the company’s human rights efforts for China. It was his job to come up with a plan to protect human rights in the country. LaJeunesse “later devised a human rights program to formalize Google’s principles supporting free expression and privacy. He began lobbying for it internally in 2017 — around the time when the tech giant was exploring a return to China, in a stark reversal of its 2010 move that made its search engine unavailable there.”
Ultimately, it seems that China was too big and lucrative of a market for Google to ignore indefinitely—even if that meant compromising its principles. In 2018, it was reported the company was working on Project Dragonfly, a censored search app for the Chinese market. After protest from employees, Google finally scrapped the plan.
LaJeunesse sounded warnings about Project Dragonfly internally, warnings which seemed to go unheeded. He became increasingly convinced that Google needed to formally adopt a human rights policy that could guide company decisions regardless of whether he or his deputies were present.
Eventually, LaJeunesse was informed his role was being terminated and he was offered another one that seemed too much like a demotion. He chose to leave the company without signing an NDA so he could shed light on the changes occurring within Google.
Speaking about the company’s former mission statement, “Don’t be evil,” LaJeunesse told The Washington Post: “I didn’t change. Google changed. Now when I think about ‘Don’t be evil,’ it’s been relegated to a footnote in the company’s statements.”
It was reported earlier this week that company veterans felt Google had become ‘unrecognizable’ due to some of the very same issues LaJeunesse had. The Washington Post interview is a fascinating read that continues to flesh out that narrative and showcases what happens when a company seems to prioritize profit over principles.