Former Google executive reveals why he left, says proposal for Human Rights Program was repeatedly rejected

Ross LaJeunesse says that he was 'sidelined' from the conversations regarding 'Project Dragonfly'.


Ross LaJeunesse, former Google head of International Relations, stepped down from his position in April 2019 but never revealed the reason for doing so. However, now, LaJeunesse has come clean about why he left the company.

In a blogpost on Medium, LaJeunesse says that he was "sidelined" from the conversations regarding the company's "Project Dragonfly". To recall, under Google's secret project, the company was trying to launch a censored search engine in China. In collaboration with a Beijing-based website called 265.com, Google had reportedly developed blacklists for blocking out certain categories, keywords from a probable Chinese search engine such as democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest.

(Also read: Google’s internal conflict with privacy team has led to the end of Project Dragonfly)

 Former Google executive reveals why he left, says proposal for Human Rights Program was repeatedly rejected

Ross LaJeunesse. Image: Getty

LaJeunesse writes in the blog post, "I was alarmed when I learned in 2017 that the company had begun moving forward with the development of a new version of a censored Search product for China, codenamed 'Dragonfly'". The company had stepped back from China market earlier because the government demanded full access to the company's user data and wanted the company to fully co-operate to ensure that the Chinese users saw only that content that was "in line with the government".

He further said that when Google announced that it will set up a Google Center for Artificial Intelligence in Beijing, that is when he felt powerless. He writes, "it made it clear to me that I no longer had the ability to influence the numerous product developments and deals being pursued by the company."

(Also read: Google employees 'confused and angry' about censored search engine for China)

After this, he thought that if Google adopts country-wide Human Rights Program publicly, it would make them follow the human rights principles. But it did not pan out as he thought it would. He says, "Each time I recommended a Human Rights Program, senior executives came up with an excuse to say no." He says that because he was constantly "advocating for a human rights-based approach", he was "sidelined" from the ongoing conversations on whether the company should go ahead with "Project Dragonfly" or not.

According to him, "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."

He also saw an unhealthy work culture where "senior colleagues bullied and screamed at young women, causing them to cry at their desks". When he went to HR about this he was assured that it will be taken care of.

After that, he "accidentally got copied in an email from a senior HR director. In the email, the HR director told a colleague that I seemed to raise concerns like these a lot, and instructed her to 'do some digging' on me instead."

(Also read: Sundar Pichai to head Google's parent co, Alphabet Inc: The rise of a soft-spoken engineer from Chennai)

He was assured after this episode that he has been misunderstanding the situation and "was offered a small role in exchange for my acquiescence and silence."

LaJeunesse says that he was “re-orged out of a job” and left the company.

Fast-forward to present, he is running for the Senate as a Democrat in Maine.

Welcome to Tech2 Innovate, India’s most definitive youth festival celebrating innovation is being held at GMR Grounds, Aerocity Phase 2, on 14th and 15th February 2020. Come and experience an amalgamation of tech, gadgets, automobiles, music, technology, and pop culture along with the who’s who of the online world. Book your tickets now.