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Google says 2,000 people across the company work on inclusion and diversity in products

The workers are embedded in different teams, instead of being one formal team.

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At CES, Google made an announcement about diversity and product development.

James Martin/CNET
This story is part of CES 2020, our complete coverage of the showroom floor and the hottest new tech gadgets around.

Google on Thursday said it has an "inclusion champion group" of more than 2,000 employees to try to make sure the search giant's products are not biased when it comes to people's race, age or other characteristics.

The group isn't a single team, but a set of workers dispersed throughout the company and embedded in different teams. The employees are tasked with providing feedback and perspective on products while they're in development. 

Google made the announcement at CES in Las Vegas, the world's largest consumer technology conference. Earlier in the week, Google unveiled new features for the Assistant, the company's digital concierge software. The updates include new ways to schedule tasks for smart home products, as well as a feature that lets the Assistant read entire articles and blog posts out loud. 

"We ask ourselves questions like: Are all races represented in this product? Does it make sense for people living in different places around the world? Is it useful for people of all ages?" Annie Jean-Baptiste, head of product inclusion at Google, wrote in a blog post.

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The announcement comes as Google and the rest of the tech industry wrestle more with social issues, as well as their broader responsibilities to society. At Google, workers have protested against a contract with the Defense Department, the company's work in China and its treatment of contractors. 

When it comes to diversity and inclusion in products, critics of Google have said the decision to spread the responsibility across the company -- rather than creating a formal team -- creates a lack of accountability. Last week, Google's former head of international relations Ross LaJeunesse, said the search giant pushed him out after he fought for the implementation of a formal human rights program at the company. 

LaJeunesse, who is now running for the Senate as a Democrat in Maine, suggested the adoption of a companywide program, which would publicly commit Google to certain principles, as well as allow product and engineering teams to seek human rights reviews of their projects. LaJeunesse didn't return a request for comment about Google's announcement on Thursday.

Google defended the structure of the product inclusion group. "A commitment to product inclusion can't just live within one team," Jean-Baptiste wrote. "It needs to be embedded and prioritized across the company." 

The company formed the group after an engineer named Peter Sherman noticed facial recognition software on the company's Pixel phone was having trouble detecting people with darker skin tones, Jean-Baptiste told the website Digital Trends

The company has faced blowback for its methods in trying to improve the Pixel's biometrics software for features like unlocking your phone with facial recognition. To get more data for product development, the company reportedly targeted people of color without fully explaining what they were doing. Google partnered with a staffing agency to have its temps collect the facial scans. The staffers were sent to Atlanta to find homeless people, to US college campuses and to events including the BET Awards in Los Angeles.