"Fess Up To Reality" - Former Google Exec Exposes Silicon Valley Hypocrisy In Scathing Essay

After overcoming the temptation to publish under a pseudonym, former Google (GOOGL) PR executive Jessica Powell has finally dropped her long-awaited satirical novel/memoir "The Big Disruption" last week.

In the highly anticipated book - and in an accompanying personal essay published on Medium - Powell offers what may be one of the most scathing critiques of Silicon Valley from a former executive at one of its biggest and most influential companies.


Some of her claims are nothing short of shocking - like when she admitted in her essay that she quit Google last August (she was the company's top PR executive, reporting directly to CEO Sundar Pichai) not to go back to school to study creative writing, as was reported at the time, but because she "got tired" defending the company's unscupulous actions. In particular, she cited YouTube's argument to UK lawmakers that it couldn't censor all of the far-right and jihadist recruitment content posted on its platform because of the sheer volume of content - a claim that Powell said was an outright lie, per the Daily Mail. 

Memorably, there were some instances where Google even paid some of the accounts that posted terrorist content.

Google has been widely criticised for allowing jihadists, far-Right extremists and other hate preachers to post content on its YouTube video platform. In some cases, it funnelled cash from advertisers to the extremists posting videos.

But the firm has repeatedly told MPs it cannot stop problem content because of the sheer volume of videos that are uploaded to YouTube.

Miss Powell was in charge of the company’s response to the criticism, reporting directly to Google’s chief executive Sundar Pichai.

Her decision to quit the lucrative role in August last year surprised many in the industry. At the time, Miss Powell claimed she was leaving to go back to university to study creative writing.

However, in her essay, published for free on the Medium website, she admitted she needed to ‘take a break from the issues that I got tired of defending at parties’.

She said: ‘On the surface, things seemed really important and exciting. We were doing big things! Bringing the internet to the developing world! But also, on some level, it all felt a bit off, like when you go on vacation and find yourself wondering when it’s going to feel like the Instagram pics other people have posted.’

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Moon Kil Woong 1 year ago Contributor's comment

This issue comes down to details. Clearly the Internet was and maybe is inundated with jihad messages, extremists on the far right and left, and other unsavory actors. Google's job is not to police the entire Internet. However, it should do what it can to not encourage or promote them. I think that people, maybe including her, believe and expect too much from tech companies and expect them to somehow force people into proper behavior or discourse. This is a very dangerous position to take and it is clear that Google has not taken it for good reason.

If it is asked to do ads that are legal but morally questionable should it be the moral voice to say they will do adds for the left and not the right or the right and not the left. Or say they won't do either? How far does it go to censorship? Is it blocking legitimate desires of people to see and express their even slanted views? There is a limit to what is allowed and it's still evolving. I think this is a political/legislative issue more than the job of any one company. So maybe the anger and frustration is pointing to the wrong individuals. Google has always taken measures to abide by the law and not make assumptions and decisions that it should not make. This is what has made it the success it is.

In the end, like everything, it is the details that count. Not the sensational angst filled allegations no matter where or who slings them. As for YouTube content, they can monitor and take down videos, but there may not be an automated way to check every video constantly that is posted real time and even if they take it down, it is hard to keep them from just modifying them and reposting them on end. It is like many IT topics. People say you should be able to do it. It is easy. Yet in reality many things they want are very complex and hard. This is especially the case when you are talking about 1,000,000 or more video files. If they are in various languages just getting enough people with the language skills to watch everyone on end would be a complex task. Is there even enough people in the US who speak Farsee for instance to watch all the postings in Farsee constantly?

In the end, it is ok to complain. I'm sure Google has been on it and if anyone can improve things, Google can. But it takes time as most countries realize. That is why Google is working with various countries constantly to deal with these issues as they constantly arise. This is one reason why Google is so big. Few other companies have the resources to deal with their own cloud let alone with the whole Internet. I don't envy their job. It is not an easy one.

Cynthia Decker 1 year ago Member's comment

I disagree. I've always thought it suspicious that tech giants like #Google and #Facebook, which have the greatest tech minds in the world working for them, can build amazing software, filters, facial recognition, search optimization, customized ad generators, translation services, and much more, but can't figure out a better way to combat fake news and hate speech. I've often suspected that either they didn't care enough, or simply didn't see the profit in it. Now that we know $GOOGL PROFITED from this behavior, it makes even more sense.

Moon Kil Woong 1 year ago Contributor's comment

Profited is a rather broad statement when it comes to search. People simply hitting a website to see something theoretically benefits someone, so not removing such posts instantly profits them. However, the issue is how do you constantly comb all 1,000,000 video downloads for material that is questionable? This is a technical issue and is more complex than word searches that can be employed to pull up offensive behavior. I very much doubt these bad players call up Google and say can I pay you XXXX to upload these videos and Google says sure, let me help you out.

This is exactly the type of generic accusations that really play upon fears without being substantive or meaningful. Given Google works with governments and the US is upset about turning down a defense contract, do you really think they would want to do business with a company that is trying to promote terrorism?