Former Google exec says he was 'sidelined' as the company refused to implement human rights policies while pushing into China

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  • Google's former head of international relations, Ross LaJeunesse, says he was effectively pushed out last April after 11 years with the company after raising human rights concerns.
  • LaJeunesse told The Washington Post that he left because he spent two years pressuring Google to implement a comprehensive human rights policy while the company was pushing into China.
  • "I didn't change. Google changed," he told The Washington Post.
  • LaJeunesse wasn't fired from Google, but left voluntarily after a reorganization in February eliminated his role at the company. The company insisted it treats human rights seriously.
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Google's former head of international relations said he spent the last two years pressuring the company to adopt a comprehensive human rights policy as it pushed into new markets in China. But in April, after 11 years at Google, he was pushed out of the company, he said.

"I didn't change. Google changed," Ross LaJeunesse, the former executive, told The Washington Post in an interview published Thursday morning. According to LaJeunesse, he was forced out of the company after he requested formal human rights policies while the company pushed into China - a country that Google has struggled to gain a foothold in for years, and a country with an appalling human rights record.
It was this tension, he said, that eventually led to his exit. In his post-Google life, LaJeunesse is running for US Senate in Maine.

Ross LaJeunesse

"Each time I recommended a Human Rights Program, senior executives came up with an excuse to say no," LaJeunesse wrote in a blog post published on Medium on Thursday morning.

In 2017, as Google prepared to launch a new, censored version of its search engine in China - known internally as Project Dragonfly - LaJeunesse says he renewed his push for a definitive human rights policy within Google.

"As someone who had consistently advocated for a human rights-based approach, I was being sidelined from the on-going conversations on whether to launch Dragonfly. I then realized that the company had never intended to incorporate human rights principles into its business and product decisions," he wrote. The project's intent was to finally launch a version of Google's ubiquitous Search in the country - a version of Google Search that would block certain search terms, including "human rights." Google notoriously pulled out of China in 2010 after discovering an attempted hack by the Chinese government into Google's servers. "We have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists," then SVP of corporate development and chief legal officer David Drummond wrote in January 2010.

But in subsequent years, Google repeatedly flirted with re-entering the lucrative Chinese market. The company's latest attempt, Project Dragonfly, was lambasted by Google employees who joined with Amnesty International to protest the censored version of Google Search launching in China.

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Dragonfly was eventually shut down, and Google's CEO, Sundar Pichai, told Congress in late 2018, "Right now, there are no plans to launch a search service in China." It's unclear if plans are currently in the works for a future launch.

LaJeunesse wasn't fired from Google. He left voluntarily after a reorganization in February eliminated his role at the company. Though he was offered a separate job as foreign policy institutions leader, he instead chose to leave the company without signing a non-disclosure agreement so that he could speak openly about his experience.

For its part, Google has a different take on what happened.

"We have an unwavering commitment to supporting human rights organizations and efforts. That commitment is unrelated to and unaffected by the reorganization of our policy team, which was widely reported and which impacted many members of the team," Google representative Jenn Kaiser said in a statement provided to Business Insider. "Ross was offered a new position at the exact same level and compensation, which he declined to accept. We wish Ross all the best with his political ambitions."
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