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Google investor calls for policy review following firing of AI researcher

A resolution put forward by Trillium Asset Management suggests "red flags" indicate something needs to change at the tech giant

Alphabet shareholder Trillium Asset Management has called for an independent review into Google's internal policies following the sacking of AI ethic researcher Timnit Gebru

Trillium, which owns 63,078 Alphabet shares (roughly worth $140 million), called the treatment of Gebru and others that questioned the tech giant, "red flags". 

Gebru was fired in December while working on a research paper about the dangers of large language models. She was also critical of Google's internal culture and accused the company of "retaliation" when she tried to raise these issues.

Earlier this year, Gebru's co-lead, Margaret Mitchell, was also fired after using a script to search her emails for evidence of discrimination against Gebru - Google claimed this violated its security policies. 

"Reporting suggests that many Google employees who have resigned or been fired ... publicly report retaliation after voicing human rights implications of company practices, including systemic workplace racism and sexism," Trillium said in a shareholder resolution. "These red flags suggest the potential for culture, ethics, and/or human rights problems internally."

The resolution was filed shortly before the resignation of Google research manager Samy Bengio. According to an internal email seen by Reuters, Bengio's decision was based on the treatment of Gebru and other colleagues that questioned Google's diversity policies. 

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Google confirmed Bengio's departure to IT Pro, but the tech giant also pointed to a conflicting report from Bloomberg that suggests the decision was amicable and that the memo didn't mention Gebru. 

Trillium raised concerns about Google's internal troubles in 2020 but it was shot down by the board, which felt the policies in place were adequate. 

"Our argument this year is basically the proof is in the pudding," Jonas Kron, chief advocacy officer at Trillium said, according to The Verge. "A year ago you said everything was hunky-dory and in the meantime, we've seen what happened with Dr Gebru and ongoing protests by Google employees, which suggests that things aren't working well, that there are these red flags that indicate something needs to change."

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