Google is failing to protect users and contractors post-Roe, workers say

Over 600 workers have signed a petition asking for more robust action.

Charles Platiau / reuters

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade in June, Alphabet was one of several major tech companies that attempted to extend some flexibility to its workers seeking care, including those who potentially would need to travel out of state. It likewise made the narrow decision to delete users' location data when they visited abortion providing clinics, albeit only in response to legislative pressure. Since then, however, Alphabet has been effectively silent on the issue, and a group of its own workers are stepping up to demand a broader response on behalf of their colleagues and users at large.

The petition (reproduced in full below) was sent on Monday to a group of six executives, including CEO Sundar Pichai, and has been signed by over 650 workers at the company. Thus far, the executives have yet to respond. Responding to a request for comment Alphabet told Engadget "we have nothing specific to add on this letter."

First and foremost, the workers ask that Alphabet's new policies on travel and reimbursement for out-of-state care be extended to the company's temps, vendors and contractors (TVCs), a workforce which, by some estimates, outnumbers its full-time employees. This includes increasing the daily reimbursement from $50 to $150 and changing the minimum number of sick days to seven. "Many of our fellow TVCs have three days of sick leave, whereas full-time employees have unlimited [days]," Alejandra Beatty, a technical program manager with subsidiary Verily and a member of Alphabet Workers Union (AWU), told Engadget. "Everybody deserves seven, especially when we're still dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks."

Engadget first asked Alphabet if these travel and reimbursement policies would extend to TVCs shortly after the Supreme Court's decision and received no reply. This implicit exclusion was immediately criticized by AWU and the company seemingly has not rectified the discrepancy in treatment in the two months since.

The petition further seeks to strengthen Alphabet's data privacy policies around these sensitive subjects. "Searching for reproductive justice, gender-affirming care, and abortion access information on Google must never be saved, handed over to law enforcement, or treated as a crime," the document states. In practice, this would not only broaden the scope of the company's new policy on location data related to abortion providing clinics — both by expanding to new categories of sensitive information, as well as new kinds of non-locational data — but it would also de facto require it to change how that information is logged in the first place. Law enforcement, armed with a court order, could force Alphabet to turn over data in its possession, and the only viable workaround would be not having that data. "We think it's more important that we are on the side of 'let's just not have the data,'" Beatty said, "because you can't tell a company to just say 'no' to any subpoena."

Issues around the preservation of data related to abortion presented the worrying hypothetical in the immediate wake of Roe's overturning that a tech company might willingly, or might be forced to, provide data to law enforcement that would result in criminal charges. These companies have largely left that question unanswered. But a version of this grim scenario has already occurred, with Facebook messages provided to cops becoming key evidence in an abortion case that's being prosecuted in Nebraska. (Meta, Facebook's parent company, contends the warrants were received prior to the Supreme Court's decision and did not mention abortion specifically. Regardless, it bodes poorly for data privacy.)

Among other dystopian schemes that have already come to pass: Google's own alleged complicity in pushing fake "abortion clinic" results to care-seekers on its Search and Maps products— something this petition also seeks to redress. A variety of recent reports have pointed out that queries on these products often push users toward so-called "crisis pregnancy centers," which are non-medical, often religious establishments with the express goal of convincing pregnant people to carry their pregnancies to term.

In order to accomplish these and the other wide-ranging goals in the petition, the signatories "call on Alphabet to create a dedicated task-force with 50% employee representation, responsible for implementing changes across all products and our company, just like Alphabet did for handling the COVID-19 pandemic." The existence of that task force may not be familiar to the public. But Beatty says the volunteer team — which she believes numbered in the thousands — resulted in many recognizable changes to Alphabet products, like informational boxes about COVID on Search, testing locations being catalogued on Maps and even Google and Apple's joint contact tracing app (though granted the latter was not a resounding success). "I want to see a plan that is similar to our response to COVID-19," Beatty said. "This is a healthcare crisis that has been created. I want to see a plan like that. And others agree with me."

Protect our worker's rights

We, the undersigned, recognize that all Alphabet workers, of all genders, are impacted by the overturning of Roe v. Wade and are disappointed in Alphabet’s response and influence on this ruling.

Alphabet has continued to make access to reproductive and gender affirming healthcare a “women’s issue” by only providing women@ Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) with listening sessions, and using gendered language in their communication with workers when this is an issue that affects all of us.

In order to align with Google’s core values, we demand that Alphabet acknowledges the impact this Supreme Court ruling has on all its workers and to immediately do the following:

1. Protect all workers’ access to reproductive healthcare by setting a reproductive healthcare standard in the US Wages and Benefits Standards including:

a. Extending the same travel-for-healthcare benefits offered to FTEs to TVCs.

b. Adding minimum of 7 days of additional sick time because workers will need to travel for significant periods to obtain health services.

c. Increasing FTE & TVC reimbursement amounts for travel to $150 per night. $50 is NOT a viable reimbursement for a hotel stay in most states, and does not address childcare or lost wages.

d. Publishing a TVC transparency report, detailing vendors’ compliance to the Alphabet/Google US Wages and Benefits Standards. For example, details on why certain roles are exempt, and timelines for vendors to come into compliance.

2. Protect our government from corporate influence. Alphabet must stop lobbying politicians and any political organizations, through NetPAC or any other means because these politicians were responsible for appointing the Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade and continue to infringe on other human rights issues related to voting access and gun control.

3. Protect our users and customers from having their data used against them and addressing the disinformation and misleading information as it pertains to abortion services and other reproductive healthcare services on all Alphabet platforms and products by:

a. Instituting immediate user data privacy controls for all health-related activity, for example, searching for reproductive justice, gender-affirming care, and abortion access information on Google must never be saved, handed over to law enforcement, or treated as a crime.

b. Fixing misleading search results related to abortion services by removing results for fake abortion providers.

c. No longer working with publishers of disinformation related to abortion services who violate AdSense's publishers policies related to unreliable and harmful claims about a major health crisis.

d. Providing transparency into ad revenue sharing with Google custom search so that abortion services that pay for Google ads don’t inadvertently have their ad revenue go to organizations that are actively working against them.

In order to meet these demands, we call on Alphabet to create a dedicated task-force with 50% employee representation, responsible for implementing changes across all products and our company, just like Alphabet did for handling the COVID-19 pandemic.