Berlin protests halt Google plans: Will recruitment suffer?

Opinion: Google's tax policies and its lax ethics will become a wider problem -- take a look at Yahoo's demise after it's role as a police informant.
Written by Tom Foremski, Contributor

Local protestors claimed a victory in their opposition to Google's plans to set up an urban business park in a poor district of Berlin -- it would have been its seventh "Google Campus" after London, Sao Paulo, Madrid, Tel Aviv, Seoul, and Warsaw.

The BBC reports, Google drops plans for Berlin campus after protests

The district has long been known for radical and underground culture. Google spokesman Ralf Bremer told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper that the company "does not allow protests to dictate our actions."

He said discussions with local humanitarian groups had instead led the firm to conclude that giving them the space would be the best solution for the area.

CNN reported that protests against the 3,000 square meter (32,291sq.ft) Google campus had been ongoing since 2016.

"Being confronted with the stress of permanent protest is clearly not the atmosphere in which people want to network and discuss ideas," [...said activist Konstantin Sergiou from the organization Bizim Kiez, part of the No Google Campus Alliance group.]

Google abandons Berlin campus plans after local protests - CNN

Foremski's Take: The Google Campuses are places where the tech giant can offer a friendly event space for local startups to use. It's great for building goodwill in key tech communities and they are vital to the lifeblood of the company: recruiting great engineers.

A writer writes a book, a filmmaker makes a film, an insurance sales sells a policy, a lawyer prepares a contract -- the output of an engineer is far different to that of most jobs. Because the work of a software engineer can be scaled across massive areas of the Internet -- and continue to work at an ever growing pace. The best engineers are hugely valuable.

Berlin, however, is not going to be a great recruitment center for Google. In trying to ignore the many months of protests in Berlin's trend-setting Kreuzberg district it shows that the company is out of touch with this community. It's not going to be cool to say that you are a Google engineer. But that's not true everywhere.

I recently visited the Warsaw Google campus which is part of a renovated former vodka factory and part of an arts and retail complex, a museum and a large conference and exhibition space which hosts cultural events as well as tech events and educational workshops.

The Warsaw Campus is situated in Praga which was a very poor district of Warsaw but rapid gentrification has changed the neighborhood greatly -- in many positive ways. And there seems to be a positive attitude towards the Google Campus from the locals.

In September I attended a two-day music and arts event at the campus that attracted a lot of people, and there were many other events scheduled. A positive sentiment towards Google seems popular with the locals.

Google recruitment in Poland will do better than in Berlin and that's true country by country. But for how long?

Google's lack of a moral or ethical leadership is going to be a big problem and the Berlin protests won't be an outlier data point. It proudly states its rights to pay as little tax as possible and to use every accounting measure known to Google to avoid taxes in the countries where it does business. Then there is its amorality when it comes to explaining its work on military projects and its plans for a clever way of getting back into the Chinese market.

Earlier this year Google dropped "Don't be evil" maybe because parent company Alphabet adopted "Do the right thing." This seems to suit its leadership.

Google's amorality in the decisions by its leadership will get it into trouble and that will make it harder to recruit the best engineers. It's because engineers share a common social culture of decency and justice and this doesn't line up with a leadership that's unaware of such qualities.

For Google's leaders amorality is a lack of data -- it's as if Google's leadership don't know what the right thing to do should be.

I offer some data to guide Google in making the right ethical decisions. In 2005 Yahoo was named by Reporters Without Borders as a police informant to the Chinese authorities resulting in ten-year hard labor sentences for dissidents fingered by Yahoo. Company morale sank like a stone and I tracked the start of the company's decline to this event.

Take a look: Yahoo's China "police informant" role sparked a $47.5 billion slide in market value | ZDNet

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