Google employees have been improperly using attorney-client privilege to hide documents from discovery in litigation and government investigations, according to fresh allegations laid by the US Justice Department (DOJ).
"Google has explicitly and repeatedly instructed its employees to shield important business communications from discovery by using false requests for legal advice," DOJ attorneys wrote in a court filing for its search monopoly lawsuit against Google.
According to the court filing [PDF], Google taught employees to slap an attorney-client privilege label and generic "request" for counsel's advice label on any sensitive business communications that Google might wish to shield from discovery. Slapping these labels onto communications prevents them from being provided for discovery in litigation.
This practice has allegedly been used throughout all levels of Google's hierarchy, with the DOJ claiming Google parent company Alphabet's CEO Sundar Pichai copied Google chief legal officer Kent Walker onto an email to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki about how to respond to a press inquiry, with "Attorney Client Privileged" at the top.
In these "camouflaged" communications, the attorney allegedly remained silent on a frequent basis, which the DOJ claims underscored that these communications were not genuine requests for legal advice but rather "an effort to hide potential evidence".
In February, an engineer named Dmitri Brereton wrote a blog post about Google's search-engine decay, rounding up leading theories for why the product's "results have gone to shit." The post quickly shot to the top of tech forums such as Hacker News and was widely shared on Twitter and even prompted a PR response from Google's Search liaison, Danny Sullivan, refuting one of Brereton's claims. "You said in the post that quotes don't give exact matches. They really do. Honest," Sullivan wrote in a series of tweets.
Brereton's most intriguing argument for the demise of Google Search was that savvy users of the platform no longer type instinctive keywords into the search bar and hit "Enter." The best Googlers—the ones looking for actionable or niche information, product reviews, and interesting discussions—know a cheat code to bypass the sea of corporate search results clogging the top third of the screen. "Most of the web has become too inauthentic to trust," Brereton argued, therefore "we resort to using Google, and appending the word 'reddit' to the end of our queries." Brereton cited Google Trends data that show that people are searching the word reddit on Google more than ever before.
[...] Google has built wildly successful mobile operating systems, mapped the world, changed how we email and store photos, and tried, with varying success, to build cars that drive themselves. [...] Most of the tech company's products—Maps, Gmail—are Trojan horses for a gargantuan personalized-advertising business, and Search is the one that started it all. It is the modern template for what the technology critic Shoshana Zuboff termed "surveillance capitalism."
The article goes on at length about ruthless commercialism via ever-intrusive ads, constant tweaks to the search algorithm, and how different generations use the ubiquitous search engine.