Google Begins Investigation Of AI Staffer Over Data Transfer

Google has reportedly begun an investigation into a potential leak of ‘sensitive data’ from a member of its ethical AI team.

News that Google was investigating the actions of another top AI ethicist team member, was first revealed by Axios.

It reported that the person in question is Margaret Mitchell, who reportedly had been using automated scripts to look through her messages to find examples showing discriminatory treatment of Dr Timnit Gebru, a former employee in the AI team who claimed Google fired her.

Google investigation

In December, Dr Gebru who is noted for her work on algorithmic bias, particularly with facial recognition technology, claimed that Google had effectively fired her over an email she sent to colleagues, but Google disputes this and insisted she didn’t follow procedure.

According to the Axios, Mitchell had been using automated scripts to look through her messages to find examples showing discriminatory treatment of Gebru before her account was locked.

Google confirmed that Mitchell’s email account has been locked and that the company is investigating why Mitchell downloaded a large number of files and shared them with people outside the company.

“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,” Google was reported as saying.

“In this instance, yesterday our systems detected that an account had exfiltrated thousands of files and shared them with multiple external accounts,” it added. “We explained this to the employee earlier today.”

Mitchell reportedly did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

CEO criticism

But Mitchell had earlier on Tuesday posted a tweet critical of Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s planned meeting with historically Black college and university leaders.

“Say you have a problem with consistently alienating Black women and have caused serious damage in their lives,” she tweeted. “You could: A) try to undo that damage B) try to find more Black people to like you (the tokenism approach). Good luck…..”

Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai told staff that the firm would examine the departure of Dr Gebru, but staffers on Google’s Ethical AI research team apparently demanded the company sideline vice president Megan Kacholia, as well as commit to greater academic freedom.

Early in January, staff at Google for the first time ever, formed their own trade union after years of issues reported among its workforce.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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