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Google grappling with trust issues, CEO Pichai says

In a leaked video, Sundar Pichai says it's "definitely gotten harder" to maintain employees' trust in management.

Google headquarters in Mountain View, California

Google headquarters sprawls across a large campus in Mountain View, California.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

In a leaked video of an internal meeting, Google CEO Sundar Pichai acknowledged the company is having trouble maintaining employee trust in management, especially as the tech giant grows, The Washington Post reported Friday. An executive also defended the hiring of an ex-government official who'd stood up for US President Donald Trump's Muslim travel ban.

During a weekly all-hands meeting for employees, called TGIF, Pichai said he tries "to understand when I feel there is something which caused breaking of trust and see what we can do to improve" but that "it's definitely gotten harder to do this at the scale we are doing it," the Post reported.

Pichai's comments follow a number of episodes of employee dissent on issues ranging from workplace culture to Google's projects for the US military to efforts to build a censored search engine for China.

Last November, for instance, more than 20,000 full-time and contract workers from Google walked out of 50 offices around the world to protest the company's handling of alleged sexual assault and misconduct. And six months later, workers held a sit-in to protest alleged retaliation for that walk-out.

This week, Google's company leadership was accused of developing an internal tool to keep tabs on employees' efforts to organize protests and discuss labor rights. Google called the claim "categorically false" and said the tool was designed to fight internal spam associated with calendars and events.

In the leaked video, Google Vice President for Government Affairs and Public Policy Karan Bhatia addressed concerns about the hiring of Miles Taylor, a former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official who'd publicly defended Trump's travel ban. Bhatia reportedly said the company wouldn't be working with Taylor on border issues, but in the areas of counterterrorism and national security. 

Congress' House Committee on Homeland Security has been pushing various tech platforms to do a better job of removing violent content. In May, Google sent a letter to US lawmakers saying it had reviewed more than 1 million suspected terrorist videos on its YouTube platform in the first three months of the year and that it spends "hundreds of millions of dollars annually" on content review. 

Earlier this week, BuzzFeed News reported that some Google workers were upset over Taylor's hiring. To critics, the move seemed to suggest an about-face on values, because when Trump's ban was originally announced, Pichai had expressed reservations about it.

Google didn't respond to a request for comment on the Post report about the leaked video.