Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai responded to a report that Google has dramatically scaled back diversity and inclusion programs to appease conservative critics, promising that the company remains committed. “Diversity is a foundational value for us. Given the scale at which we build products and the fact we do it locally for our users, we are deeply committed to having that representation in our workforce,” said Pichai in an interview on The Vergecast. “What we are doing in the company is constantly at our scale. We look at that first — see what works, what we can scale up better. All I can say is we probably have more resources invested in diversity now than at any point in our history as a company.”
Last week, NBC News reported that Google had ended a “well-liked” diversity program called Sojourn as well as two other programs called DEI for Managers and Allyship 101. A spokesperson told NBC that Sojourn had proven too hard to scale up globally and that Google had folded ideas from the other two programs into a different training process.
NBC News sources, however, offered a different interpretation. They said Google had shrunk the teams responsible for internal diversity and inclusion programs, outsourced diversity-related positions previously held by full-time employees, and had leaders discourage employees from using the term “diversity” or — in one case — say that “conversations about diversity could become a liability.”
They also argued that Google took these actions because it feared backlash after a 2017 controversy involving James Damore, who was fired for writing a memo that argued women were biologically less interested in technology than men. Damore and three others sued Google for allegedly discriminating against white conservative men, although he asked a court to dismiss the suit earlier this month. Some conservative politicians, including President Donald Trump, have threatened Google with penalties for making “anti-conservative” moderation decisions on platforms like YouTube.
Pichai told The Verge that, within Google, “we have definitely made efforts to make sure the company can accommodate viewpoints, and no one feels they’re not part of the company, regardless of their political viewpoints.” But he denied that concerns about conservative criticism played into diversity program decisions. “Look, our diversity efforts, we don’t bring any such lens to it,” said Pichai. “I think those are two independent things.”
Arizona sues Google over claims it illegally tracked location of Android users
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has filed a lawsuit against Google over allegations the company illegally tracked Android users’ location without their consent and even when the location tracking features had been manually disabled, according to a report from The Washington Post.
The suit argues Google kept location tracking running in the background for certain features, like weather and for web searches using its search engine and Chrome browser, even after the user disabled app-specific location tracking. Only when a user dug further into the Android system settings and turned off broader system-level tracking did Google stop surreptitiously siphoning location data, the complaint argues.
Google has found itself in similar controversies in the past over location tracking of Android users. The company has responded to privacy concerns over the years with various stopgap measures like making it easier to auto-delete your location data, and cracking down on offending third-party apps that do so without consent. But its efforts to improve privacy protections and the various settings you need to monitor to ensure you’re not being overly tracked remain complex and confusing to average users, and it can often seem impossible to keep tabs on just how much Google knows about you and what sources of data it maintains.
Brnovich is asking a court force Google to pay back profits it may have earned from monetizing this data through ads served to Arizona residents. The Post says Arizona’s anti-fraud laws also might subject Google to $10,000 per fine violations. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“At some point, people or companies that have a lot of money think they can do whatever the hell they want to do, and feel like they are above the law,” Brnovich told The Post in an interview. “I wanted Google to get the message that Arizona has a state consumer fraud act. They may be the most innovative company in the world, but that doesn’t mean they’re above the law.”
Google and its YouTube subsidiary, as well as the other major tech companies, are facing a number of regulatory and legal quagmires right now, following antitrust and privacy enforcement in the European Union that resulted in multi-billion fines against Google over the last decade.
Now, US politicians and regulators are following suit and have begun engaging in a broad and coordinated effort across the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, and state legislators to reign in Big Tech and enforce antitrust, privacy, and other laws. These are rules Silicon Valley has largely flouted over the last couple of decades as lawmakers failed to keep up with the pace of technological change and the scale of Big Tech’s ability to exploit loopholes and skirt regulation for monetary gain and market consolidation.
YouTube settled with the FTC last year for violations of Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), while Google is currently under investigation by all 50 state attorneys general and the subject of a broader antitrust probe led by the Justice Department.
Gmail’s latest update makes it easier to change the look of your inbox
Accessing the plethora of settings hidden in Gmail can be a pain, but it’s about to get a little easier. Google is rolling out a quick settings menu, which offers a sampling of options that let you adjust the look of your inbox without leaving the page. Once this new tweak arrives on your account, it will activate automatically, and you won’t have to leave the page to see the visual changes you make to your inbox.
The quick settings menu contains an option to change the density of information displayed (between default, comfortable, or compact). It also lets you choose which emails you want to have prioritized in your inbox. Another option lets you add a reading pane so you can see an email’s contents without actually opening it. Lastly, you can adjust your Gmail theme from the quick settings menu.
You’ll still need to drill into the full list of settings if you want to, say, make a vacation response for some out-of-office time. Google’s putting a link to all of those options right at the top of the quick settings menu, and it mentioned in a press release for this feature that no new features are being added to Gmail. This is simply a nip and tuck of previous features to make its email service a little easier to use.
The rollout has begun for personal Gmail accounts as well as G Suite users who work at corporations on Google’s rapid-release track. If you don’t notice the quick settings menu soon, your workplace might be on Google’s scheduled release track. If that’s the case, the quick settings menu won’t begin rolling out until June 22nd.
Google now lets businesses clarify what services they offer during the pandemic
Google will soon let businesses add additional descriptors to their listings that appear in Google Search and Maps results to better help potential customers understand what a business offers at a glance. The company is adding these new descriptors and announcing a number of other features today to help businesses better surface important information for customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new descriptors, which Google calls “attributes,” are short notes that show up under other business information on a listing. A yoga studio that offers virtual lessons could add an “online classes” attribute, for example. Business owners can add one attribute, though their businesses will have to be verified by Google to use the feature. Here’s a screenshot from Google to give you an idea of what attributes may look like:
Google is also expanding a tool called Reserve with Google that lets people book appointments directly from a listing. Google previously offered integrations with more than 100 service-booking partners for in-person services, but now businesses can offer appointments for online services via those partners. Businesses will also be able to specify how to attend the online appointment or class right from the listing.
There are a few new features for restaurants, too. Restaurants will soon be able to specify their preferred delivery or takeout partner company in their business listing, and Google is now letting restaurants that are takeout- or delivery-only (sometimes called virtual or cloud kitchens) apply to become verified businesses.
Google is also letting more businesses across the globe add links to direct donations or buy a gift card right in their business listings. Google first said these links were available to businesses in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand on May 11th, but Google is rolling out the feature for businesses in 18 more countries, including Italy, Spain and Japan, starting today.
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