Google has decided to suspend its Trends Alert feature in New Zealand in light of criticisms from New Zealand government last Wednesday. Last December, Google’s email trend alerts sent out the name of a murder suspect despite court orders prohibiting the identification of the accused.
Last year, a British backpacker, Grace Millane, disappeared in Auckland while on vacation. A suspect was in custody and awaiting trial in December.
The Trends Alerts email was sent to thousands of subscribers with the name of the accused on its subject line. The suspect was granted a temporary name suppression after his first appearance in court.
The New Zealand Government has criticized the tech giant for the error and its response after being reprimanded. New Zealand justice minister Andrew Little met with Google executives Caroline Rainsford, Country Director, and Ross Young, Senior Policy Manager, to discuss the situation. Several meetings were done within months since December.
According to The Guardian, Google confirmed that there would be no changes in how they operate the Trends Alerts feature. An email from Young was shared by Little to the media.
It reads: “We have looked at our systems, and it appears that last year’s situation was relatively unique as it was a high-profile case involving a person from overseas, which was extensively reported by overseas media.”
Google’s decision not to change its operations of Trends Alerts prompted Little to criticize the tech giant.
“Google’s contempt for New Zealand law, and for Grace Millane’s family is unacceptable, and I will now be considering my options,” says Little.
“In the end, Google is effectively acting as a publisher and publishing material that is under suppression orders in New Zealand, and they cannot and should not be allowed to get away with that.”
The tech giant responded to Little’s statements by sending a written apology. Google emphasized that they respect New Zealand’s law and that there has been a miscommunication.
“We understand the right to a fair trial and acknowledge that this is a fundamental part of the legal system,” Google wrote. The statement further shares that it has suspended the Trends Alerts features to prevent any similar incident from happening again.
Little commended Google’s action and shared, “Nevertheless, they appear to have changed their mind, they are now taking it seriously. The next thing is to work with them [in] the long term, [an] enduring solution, which is what we need if we’re to avoid a recurrence of this again.”
Disappointments from New Zealand Government
Little took to Twitter last Wednesday to send a message to Google. He reminds the tech giant of the company’s motto _ “Don’t be Evil.” Little posted a video to share his disappointments about Google’s initial statement regarding its decision of not “changing their operations.”
“There are some things that are pretty important to our justice system, and making sure people get treated fairly whether as a defendant or for that matter as a victim is absolutely crucial,” Little says in a video.
“We’ve had a situation where, in a very important trial — the Grace Millane case — a newspaper, helped by Google, has published information that the judge said was suppressed,” Little continued. “That’s wrong and I’ve been a bit frustrated by Google not working out what the problem is and what they can do to help prevent this from happening again. My message to Google is ‘Don’t be evil’. Do the right thing.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Arden also shared her reactions to Google’s response last Wednesday saying, “It’s been disappointing. Now we need to consider what the next steps will be for NZ.”
Company Motto: Don’t be Evil
Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin included the adage “Don’t be Evil” on their company’s code of conduct. This adage has been part of the company’s code of conduct manuals since 2000.
In 2015, when Google reorganized under Alphabet, Inc., the adage was revised to “Do the right thing.” According to Gizmodo, the company’s motto is deeply incorporated into the company’s culture. The phrase or a version of it was even used as passwords for the company’s wifi.
In 2018, Google removed the adage in its code of conduct. A report from the Business Insider Google reiterates that the motto is “foundational” and is still in effect (even without the motto).