Google’s staff scientist Margaret Mitchell was sacked on Friday. Google said in a statement Mitchell violated the company’s code of conduct and security policies by moving electronic files outside the company.
Mitchell announced her firing on Twitter.
The company said Mitchell’s firing followed disciplinary recommendations by investigators and a review committee. It said her violations “included the exfiltration of confidential business-sensitive documents and private data of other employees”. The investigation began Jan. 19.
Google’s ethics in artificial intelligence work has been under scrutiny since the firing of Timnit Gebru, a scientist who gained prominence for exposing bias in facial analysis systems.
Gebru said Google fired her after she questioned an order not to publish a study saying AI that mimics language could hurt marginalized populations.
Gebru and Mitchell had called for greater diversity and inclusion among Google’s research staff and expressed concern that the company was starting to censor papers critical of its products.
The dismissal prompted thousands of Google workers to protest.
Google AI research director Zoubin Ghahramani and a company lawyer informed Mitchell’s team of her firing on Friday in a meeting called at short notice, according to sources.
Google employee Alex Hanna said on Twitter the company was running a “smear campaign” against Mitchell and Gebru, with whom she worked closely.
Google has recruited top scientists with promises of research freedom, but the limits are tested as researchers increasingly write about the negative effects of technology and offer unflattering perspectives on their employer’s products.
Google reiterated to researchers in a memo and meeting on Friday that it was working to improve pre-publication review of papers. It also announced new policies on Friday to handle sensitive departures and evaluate executives based on team diversity and inclusion.