Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, which is enmeshed in a controversy over a browser tool that monitors employee meeting requests.
Mateusz Wlodarczyk / Getty
  • Google  has developed a browser tool for internal use that can detect when employees are scheduling meetings involving large numbers of people, Bloomberg's Ryan Gallagher reported Wednesday.
  • Employees are worried that the tool is a kind of spyware meant to discourage labor activism or organisation.
  • But Google's official line is that the tool is benign and was developed in response to an increase in spam.
  • The budding controversy over the browser extension comes in the wake of growing tension between workers and management over a range of issues, including the handling of sexual harassment claims.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

A browser tool developed by Google to monitor meeting requests made by employees has sparked a controversy at the search giant.

The tool can detect whether employees are scheduling meetings with large numbers of people, Bloomberg's Ryan Gallagher reported on Wednesday. Employees have charged that the software, which is designed to be installed on the bespoke version of the Chrome browser that runs on all employees' computers, as a kind of surveillance tool that the company plans to use to monitor and discourage worker activism, according to the report.

"This is an attempt of leadership to immediately learn about any workers organisation attempts," an anonymous company employee wrote in a memo outlining concerns about the tool, Bloomberg reports.

A Google representative denied that claim to Business Insider, saying that the company developed the extension in response to an uptick in spam involving calendar entries.

The tool triggers a pop-up message when employees attempt to auto-add a meeting to the calendars or large numbers of people and serves as a kind of gentle reminder to not abuse the feature, the representative said. The extension does not prevent users from creating such meetings and doesn't collect personal information when it's triggered, the representative said.

"These claims about the operation and purpose of this extension are categorically false," a Google representative said in a statement.

Regardless, concern about the extension has been rising among employees. On internal message boards, workers have been discussing it and mocking Google's leaderships attempts to minimise their worries about it, according to Bloomberg. The tool has become the most-requested topic to be discussed at Google's weekly company-wide meetings, one employee told the publication.

The controversy over the tool follows growing tension between Google's leadership and its rank-and-file. Over the last two years, employees protested Google's contract to work with the defense department on artificial intelligence and to build a censored search engine that would allow it to re-enter the Chinese market. After a report last year that Google's leadership had overlooked claims of sexual harassment against top employees or richly rewarded those accused on their way out, thousands of Google workers staged a massive walkout.

More recently, contract workers in Pittsburgh voted last month to join the United Steelworkers Union. Meanwhile, employees in Switzerland this week defied management and held a meeting on unionisation, Bloomberg reported.

Receive a daily email with all our latest news: click here.

Also from Business Insider South Africa: