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Google probes top AI Ethics scientist for downloading company files, sharing them with others

Google has suspended the corporate account of Margaret Mitchell saying that its systems detected that an account had exfiltrated thousands of files and shared them with multiple external accounts.

twitter-logoYasmin Ahmed | January 20, 2021 | Updated 14:35 IST
(Picture: Reuters)

Highlights

  • Google has suspended the corporate account of Margaret Mitchell, who helps lead the company's ethical AI team.
  • Google in a statement noted that its systems detected that an account had exfiltrated thousands of files and shared them with multiple external accounts.
  • According to reports, Mitchell had been reprimanded by Google's management, but not fired.

Google has suspended the corporate account of Margaret Mitchell, who helps lead the company's ethical AI team, according to online reports. Google in a statement noted that its systems detected that an account had exfiltrated thousands of files and shared them with multiple external accounts. A Google spokesperson told Business Insider that Mitchell's corporate access, including her work email, had been locked. Another source told the website that Mitchell had been reprimanded by management, but not fired.

As per reports, Mitchell had been using automated scripts to look through her messages to find examples showing discriminatory treatment of former Google employee Timnit Gebru, whose controversial exit enraged the employees of the company. Meanwhile, Gebru on Twitter wrote, "Guess what? @mmitchell_ai's corp access is now locked. I'm wondering if she's going to get an email to her personal email accepting her 'resignation.' I have not seen a company that has this little shame in a while."

"Our security systems automatically lock an employee's corporate account when they detect that the account is at risk of compromise due to credential problems or when an automated rule involving the handling of sensitive data has been triggered. In this instance, yesterday our systems detected that an account had exfiltrated thousands of files and shared them with multiple external accounts. We explained this to the employee earlier today," Google in a statement told Axios.

Mitchell on Tuesday highlighted an article that spoke about Google CEO Sundar Pichai's meeting with Black college leaders following racism allegations and wrote on Twitter, "Say you have a problem with consistently alienating Black women and have caused serious damage in their lives. You could: A) try to undo that damage B) try to find more Black people to like you (the tokenism approach). Good luck....."

Last month Pichai in a letter to his employees addressed the exit of Dr Timnit Gebru and noted that he will review her exit. "We need to accept responsibility for the fact that a prominent Black, female leader with immense talent left Google unhappily," Pichai had noted. However, it did not mention Gebru getting fired or is she had resigned.

"This loss has had a ripple effect through some of our least represented communities, who saw themselves and some of their experiences reflected in Dr Gebru's," he wrote. "We need to assess the circumstances that led up to Dr Gebru's departure, examining where we could have improved and led a more respectful process." On December 2, Gebru, in a series of tweets noted that she had been fired.

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