Let me first get the disclaimers out of the way:
- I have worked at Google since March, 2006.
- I do not speak on behalf of Google in this blog, nor do my views necessarily dovetail with those of other Googlers; I’ve historically held more of a public-facing role than most Googlers, so I have heightened sensitivities.
- I believe prominent technology firms — certainly including Google — contribute many things to the world that improve communications and societal openness.
Do people who work at Google / Yahoo / Microsoft / Facebook resent the fact that they can’t genuinely speak up on the Internet and have to do so anonymously, in most cases?
Confidential information on products and services my company is working on.
And this isn’t just due to obvious competitive-market issues, but also for reasons of strategic public communications. Due to events in the news, something we’re working on (and have been working on for well before these events transpired) might be seen as insensitive or inappropriate… and we know that after things die down a bit, the public will embrace rather than resent this new product or service. Other considerations: we might want to release with a bigger splash, we’re required to be silent due to third-party agreements (hardware partners, etc.), we don’t want a ton of public pontificating based upon a very rough alpha, and so on.
Issues my company is currently involved with in a legal context or is likely to become involved with in the future
For Googlers, this means no comments about “search neutrality,” or intellectual property issues with regards to YouTube, and so on.
Private user information we’re entrusted with
Such information is quite stringently controlled at my company (and I’d presume at other companies as well), but aside from the technical and legal (not to mention ethical!) safeguards, I think all of us know that it’d be long-term career suicide to even be perceived as engaging in untoward behavior in this area.
Competitors’ products and services
If I suggest a limitation of iPhones, for instance, I may be accused of being brainwashed by my company (which works on the Android operating system)… or, at minimum, I may simply worry that I’ll be perceived in negative ways (catty, manipulative, etc.). On the flip side, if I profess love for a competitor’s product, it’s a pretty sure bet someone will retort, “See? Even Googlers avoid [Google's product in this space]!” which can then, I kidd you not, snowball into headlines like, “Googlers snub [Google productname] in favor of [non-Google productname].” Aside from the ridiculous assumption that because I am not using and enjoying both products, there’s the equally-stupid one outspoken Googler = all Googlers.
Hot button societal issues that my company is associated with.
Like Privacy. Net neutrality. Not only are there often legal circumstances surrounding these issues which make talking about them verboten anyway, it’d be just a minefield to jump into online or offline conversations on such heated topics. I could be mistaken for someone speaking on behalf of the company (especially since I’ve appeared in Google-official videos about Privacy in the past), or simply harangued as a Google shill.
Frustration over my own company’s products
As much as I love a lot of the stuff that comes out of my company, there are also products and services we provide that, well, I don’t really like or I like but am dying to see improved. But what could I possibly gain by criticizing them in public?
- If I feel that the only way to see changes I’m hoping for internally is to apply external pressure, then it’s probably time for me to consider changing employers.
- If I don’t think many people will even notice my criticisms, why am I even bothering to express them? Even if just one person sees it — someone who works on that product — I’ve at minimum made someone really sad, and probably just burned a bridge. Who knows? That person might be a future teammate, and — depending on the fierceness of my criticisms — that relationship could be mighty uncomfortable!
Controversial views (e.g., anything on religion, politics, sexuality…)
By articulating such views, especially if forcefully, I could negatively affect the comfort of interactions with or even treatment from journalists, conference attendees, bloggers, etc.
Specific blogs, media outlets, bloggers, journalists, etc.
Whether it’s highlighting certain outlets’ lack of ethics or professionalism, or schaudenfreudically giggling over sophomoric online slugfests, it’d be all fun and games until I was asked to interview with one of these news networks / blogs / newspapers.
- You get a less nuanced, less comprehensive view of how and what specific people think.
- You get less information and fewer (potential useful) opinions from specific people than you otherwise would. On a related note, more misinformation on the internet remains uncorrected. In some cases (e.g., minor misconception of a product’s specs), the damage is pretty insignificant. In other cases, the misinformation is pretty harmful, causing users to do unnecessary work or politicians to make unnecessary or even harmful laws.
- Causes (political, societal) which could use the open support will often not receive it.