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Google cutting contractor workforce

The search giant confirms "significant" cuts are coming for the company's 10,000 contractors--as its co-founder already said in October.

Google is in the process of paring back a contractor workforce that numbers about 10,000, the company confirmed Monday. The news, though, isn't as fresh as it might appear at first blush.

The contractor cut story made the rounds Monday after publication of a Silicon Valley WebGuild story with the alarming headline of "Google Layoffs - 10,000 Workers Affected." The 10,000 number and Google's efforts to reduce it, though, emerged in October in a San Jose Mercury News story, and it's not clear exactly how many will lose a job.

Google headquarters.
Google's solar panel-studded headquarters as viewed from the air. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News

In that article, Google co-founder Sergey Brin revealed the 10,000 number and said, "It's really high." According to the story, "He said Google began looking at the number six months ago and has a plan to significantly reduce that number through vendor management, converting some contractors to regular employees, and other approaches."

Google spokeswoman Jane Penner didn't share too many details Monday, such as how many contractors are affected, whether contracts are being canceled or just not renewed, how many contractors Google will hire, and over what time frame the changes will take place.

"We have 10,000, and we have had a plan in place for awhile to significantly reduce that number," she said. "This is something we've been thinking about for awhile--six or seven months. It predates the most acute phase of the (present economic) crisis."

Google has been slowing hiring and reportedly had 20,123 of its own employees at the end of September. The company has been working to increase revenue from YouTube and other properties, and has shut down projects such as the Lively virtual world and SearchMash experimental search site, which "has gone the way of the dinosaur" according to the page.

Layoffs are of course spreading across the world, including at direct Google competitors such as Yahoo, but Google gets more attention than most. For one thing, Google is a high-profile company with lavish benefits such as "20 percent time" in which engineers can work on projects of their own choosing. For another, the company has been relatively bullish about the extent to which its primary source of revenue, search advertising, is recession-proof.