Untermenschen or security gone wild?  A blogger reveals secrets of Google’s caste system and the story goes viral.

I’m not sure when I first started hating Google.

Certainly it wasn’t 10 years or so ago when I began using their search engine – I loved it and told everyone I knew about it.  Nor was it when they did their IPO – in a rare moment of investment luck I got in on that early.   It definitely wasn’t with the launch of the Android – I’m a devoted fan.

Maybe it was when the media began glorifying Google’s great employment brand.  Or maybe when Google sent me an arrogant letter in response to a support issue I had with adwords on which we spend a ton of money. Or maybe it was when the HR cognoscenti started blog-pestering us employers about getting smart like Google by serving free gourmet meals to employees and giving themimage free chauffeured commutes home.  Ugh.

Yeah it must have been the employment branding.  That and the “Don’t Be Evil” nonsense.   It cut deep.

So don’t blame me for taking special interest in an expose on Google’s contingent workers that has quickly become the hottest HR related meme going viral this weekend.

The story has two components.  The first is that of blogger Andrew Wilson and how he got fired from his contract job at Google.  The other is about the caste system in place for people working at Google.

Wilson got fired for a variety of things, not the least of which was taking a video of the workers coming out of a ‘top secret’ building at Google.  The workers there spend their day scanning copyrighted books.  I didn’t know that was a secret but apparently it is, so don’t tell anybody.

The more interesting component is the employment classification system in place at Google.  For example, depending on your status – employee, contractor, temp, etc – you where a different color badge.

Quiz Time: Which Is Which?

So here are two passages.  One from Wikipedia describing Nazi concentration camps.  The other is Wilson’s description of Google’s caste system.   Can you tell which is which?

  • [people wear] colored badges according to their categorization: red triangles for […], green triangles for […], pink for […], … yellow for […].
  • Thousands of people with red badges […] worked amongst thousands of people with white badges (as […]). [Some] are given green badges. However, a fourth class exists [] that involves strictly [] labor [] These workers are identifiable by their yellow badges

Bogus comparison - Google contractors are free to move on whereas concentration camp detainees have no such freedom.  Ah yes, but I’m not trying to compare two like entities here.  I’m comparing the paragon of employment branding with despotism – and they sound uncomfortably similar.

Time will tell if this plays out as simply security gone wild or if in the end it shatters the image of Google as a great employer brand.  So far the stream on Twitter points to the latter.  Myself I remain hopeful that Google will right itself now that the founders are back in the top leadership role.

Workers Leaving the Googleplex from Andrew Norman Wilson on Vimeo.

Tags: Google, News, Contingent Workers