Former Google exec says he was 'sidelined' after pushing for human rights program

Ross LaJeunesse says he tried to form the program after learning of Google's Dragonfly censored search project for China.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
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"Each time I recommended a human rights program, senior executives came up with an excuse to say no," Ross LaJeunesse wrote in a post on Medium.

Photo by Panayiotis Tzamaros/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Google's former head of international relations said Thursday the search giant pushed him out after he fought for the implementation of a formal human rights program at the company. 

Ross LaJeunesse, who is now running for the Senate as a Democrat in Maine, was a key player in executing Google's decision to leave the search market in China in 2010. The company said it would no longer censor search results in the country, and, at the time, Google co-founder Sergey Brin cited the "totalitarianism" of the Chinese government as a reason for pulling out of the market. 

LaJeunesse said he again found himself defending human rights in China after he learned in 2017 of a project called Dragonfly, an effort to bring a censored search product back to China. In response, he suggested the adoption of a company-wide human rights 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. 

"But each time I recommended a human rights program, senior executives came up with an excuse to say no," LaJeunesse wrote in a post on Medium. "I then realized that the company had never intended to incorporate human rights principles into its business and product decisions. Just when Google needed to double down on a commitment to human rights, it decided to instead chase bigger profits and an even higher stock price."

LaJeunesse said he was "sidelined" after his push for the program, and someone else was assigned to lead the policy discussions for Dragonfly. LaJeunesse, who started at Google in 2008, left the company in April, according to The Washington Post

Google on Thursday denied that the company reassigned LaJeunesse based on his lobbying for a human rights program.

"We have an unwavering commitment to supporting human rights organizations and efforts," a spokeswoman said. "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. As part of this reorganization, Ross was offered a new position at the exact same level and compensation, which he declined to accept."

LaJeunesse's remarks Thursday come as Google deals with intense turmoil. The company is under antitrust investigation from state and federal officials. 

Tensions also continue to escalate between Google management and rank-and-file employees. Activists within the search giant have protested decisions by leadership, including the signing of an artificial intelligence contract with the Pentagon and Google's treatment of vendors and contractors. Most notably, 20,000 employees walked out of their offices in November 2018 to protest leadership's handling of sexual assault allegations.