A (female) reader writes:

This Google controversy really has me steamed.  It struck me this morning just how monumental, blatant, and agenda-driven the hypocrisy of Google actually is in the James Damore case. One phrase says it all:  “targeted ads”.

Obviously, Google’s revenue (billions of dollars worth) comes from the most successful methods of targeting advertising and marketing in human history.  When I told this to my husband this morning, a light bulb went off.  He retired last year from his position as a [senior engineer at a major tech firm.] One area of his research and expertise was data mining.  He has educated professionals in the United States and Israel in the field of data mining.  He supervised the work of a young research scientist who was just snapped up by Google specifically because of his work in this field.

Of course, the main thing that Google wants to do with all of this data is to match advertising appropriately with potential consumers.  Gender obviously plays a role on this.  Even if a person has not explicitly revealed their gender in the form of a checkbox or statement, it is very easy for them to figure out your gender based on your interests as indicated by searches and website visits.  Obviously, men and women have different interests, and they know this very well.   In fact, it took me about a minute to located this article:  https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/marketing/when-do-targeted-online-ads-constitute-discrimination/article25405510/?ref=http://www.theglobeandmail.com&service=mobile

As we all are aware, advertising companies place great value on obtaining accurate data on various demographic groups.  Thus, they are aware of all of the research regarding these groups, including differences in interests of men vs. women. Google knows this data and has it.  Given James Damore’s skills and interest level in behaviors of populations (as he has stated in various interviews) they should have offered him a job in their Google Ads arm instead of firing him!

I slightly edited the reader’s e-mail at her request, to protect her husband’s privacy.

The article she cited is from the Globe & Mail. It explores the question of when targeted advertising is discriminatory. Excerpt:

It is not unusual for advertisers to target consumers for their ads based on gender or age. In the most obvious case, a female Web user would be more likely to see ads for women’s clothing, while male Web users might be more likely to see ads for men’s clothing. This happens in other media too: It’s why you see more commercials for trucks on TV during sports broadcasts, for example, or cosmetics ads in magazines aimed at women.

It may well reinforce gender stereotypes, say, to consistently advertise makeup to women and trucks to men. The difficulty is identifying when ad targeting – which, by its nature, excludes some audiences – is discriminatory.

“While neither of our findings of opacity or discrimination are clear violations of Google’s privacy policy and we do not claim these findings to generalize or imply widespread issues, we find them concerning and warranting further investigation by those with visibility into the ad ecosystem,” the researchers wrote.

It is also hard to assign blame for the alleged discrimination. Google’s policies allow advertisers to target ads by gender, and the targeting may have been the result of other factors, such as a pattern in which men click on the ad more often, causing it to be automatically targeted to more men.

This is crackpot egalitarianism. Of all the things in the world to worry about, some people are concerned that an advertising algorithm might direct certain ads to men, based on what they’ve been reading on the Internet, and not send them to women, and vice versa? Why can’t we simply live with this kind of imperfection?

The reader’s comment shows why it’s so hard to understand the rules of this game progressives and diversocrats within academia and corporate American play. There are times when noticing differences (gender, ethnic, etc) is treated as a virtue, and times when it is taboo. For example, a college dorm set aside for black people is seen (by progressives) as a virtue, but a college dorm set aside for white people would be a crime. If you want to stay on the right side of this stuff, you should keep track of who the in-groups are in progressive ideology, and who the out-groups are. Discrimination that favors the in-groups is good, but that favoring the out-groups is bad. Principle has very little to do with it.

Alan Jacobs is trying to figure out what Google’s position really is:

Google’s position could be:

  • All studies suggesting that men-taken-as-a-group and women-taken-as-a-group have measurably different interests or abilities are so evidently wrong that any attempt to invoke them can only be indicative of malice, bad faith, gross insensitivity, or other moral flaws so severe that the person invoking them must be fired.

  • At least some of those studies are sound, but the suggestion that such differences could even partly account for gender imbalance in tech companies like Google is so evidently wrong that any attempt to invoke them can only be etc. etc.

  • At least some of those studies are sound, and very well may help to account for gender imbalance in tech companies like Google, but saying so inflicts so much emotional harm on some employees, and creates so much internal dissension, that any attempt to invoke them can only be etc. etc.

  • We take no position on any of those studies, but fired James Damore because of other things he said.

Jacobs goes on to say:

Their goal will be to create a climate of maximal fear-of-offending, and that is best done by never allowing employees to know where the uncrossable lines are. That is, after all, corporate SOP.

Yes — and lo, none other than James Damore himself says in a Wall Street Journal op-ed today:

Echo chambers maintain themselves by creating a shared spirit and keeping discussion confined within certain limits. As Noam Chomsky once observed, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”

Conor Friedersdorf is always at his best writing about issues like this. He has a question for Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, who said publicly that “portions” of James Damore’s memo violated Google’s Code of Conduct:

Given that the full text of the memo is public, that it is the subject of a national debate on an important subject, that many educated people disagree with one another about what claims it made, and that clarity can only help Google employees adhere to the company’s rules going forward, would you be willing to highlight the memo using green to indicate the “much” that you identified as “fair to debate” and red to flag the “portions” that you deemed Code-of-Conduct violations?

He continues, addressing Pichai:

I wonder if you believe the truth of a proposition is relevant to whether it violates the Code of Conduct. Can something be both the scientific consensus on a subject and unmentionable?

Excellent questions. Remember that in a June shareholders’ meeting, Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, said that dissenters are welcome at his company:

“The company was founded under the principles of freedom of expression, diversity, inclusiveness and science-based thinking. You’ll also find that all of the other companies in our industry agree with us.”

Well, James Damore just showed what a load of nonsense that is. You cannot have freedom of expression and science-based thinking, but also diversity and inclusiveness (as Google defines it). It sounds all wonderful and progressive, but these ideals cannot be entirely reconciled. If they can be, then Sundar Pichai needs to do it, and do it publicly. Because right now, he looks like a bully and a hypocrite.

How are Google employees supposed to know when it’s okay to share their opinions and analysis, and when doing so could get them fired and publicly shamed as a bigot? If Damore could not say what he said, even as he explicitly stated in the memo that he favors workplace diversity, then how fragile is the job security of anyone at Google who opens his or her mouth?

A scene from the Google cafeteria: