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Why Did Protesters Crash Google's Biggest Tech Event of the Year?

Posted on 8.10.2014

:: By Anna Gale, Fueled ::

Google I/O is one of the biggest tech events of the year, right along with WWDC and E3. This year however, there was a bit more up for discussion besides tech speculations and Android. By now you’ve probably heard about the two protesters that chose Google’s crowning moment as the perfect platform for their independent agendas, and while they were promptly escorted from the premises you have to wonder, what exactly was the motivation? 

Just to provide some context, Google I/O tickets this year were in the neighborhood of $900 and even with a price that steep they’re still in such high demand that they’re awarded via a lottery process. That immediately adds some noteworthy weight to the causes these individuals were advocating. The protests in question were regarding Eviction Free San Francisco and the Anti -Eviction Mapping Project, and a personal cause the second protester referred to as “machines that kill people” which was in opposition to Google’s acquisition last December of the robotics engineering company “Boston Dynamics”. There isn’t much to gather from The Verge’s reports on the robotics incident, however, there’s a lot to consider from Claudia Tirado’s position on the first issue. 

Yelling at Google to develop a conscience and wearing a T-shirt chastising Google’s lawyer Jack Halprin for his part in the matter, Tirado interrupted Google Android engineering director David Burke who casually went on as if she wasn’t there. If you’re not familiar with Jack Halprin he owns and plans to evict rent-controlled tenants from his seven-unit building under a controversial California law called the Ellis Act. Claudia, a third grade teacher in California, is one such tenant and her and her family would have until Feb. 26 to move out before being evicted if the act is not rescinded. After being escorted out of the conference room Tirado was interviewed by Google’s VP of Communications, Rachel Whetstone, and then finally released.

With the tech boom being in full swing, the cities and surrounding areas where these companies and their employees reside are experiencing major spikes in land and property value which in-turn makes it difficult for the existing lower and middle-income families to continue to live there. Curbed San Francisco reports that median home prices in areas like Oakland have nearly doubled in the past two years with this being a major contributor to those numbers. 

While we can all undoubtedly sympathize with Claudia Tirado and the strain this is putting on her family, the point of conversation is now deciding where, if at all, Google is within its right as the employer to intervene on the personal actions of an employee. Had Jack Halprin not been as high up in the Google chain of command and as visible a figure as he is, would there still be the same pressure for Google to intervene? With cases like Justine Sacco and many other personal antics gone wrong (especially via social media) it’s not unheard of for a company to step in and either distance themselves from that employee or directly influence the course of action. Would that be appropriate here? 

After her outburst and subsequent interview Ms. Tirado seemed optimistic having swapped contact information with Whetstone, let’s just see how this one plays out. 

Anna Gale is a marketer at Fueled, the leading iPhone app builder in New York City, renowned for its award winning mobile design and strategy.

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