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Google fires research leader amid diversity, research freedom controversies | Reuters

Alphabet Inc’s Google fired researcher Margaret Mitchell on Friday, they both said, after a weeks-long investigation found she moved electronic files outside the company amid a battle over research freedom and diversity.

Google said in a statement Mitchell violated the company’s code of conduct and security policies. Mitchell, who announced her firing on Twitter, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Google’s ethics in artificial intelligence research unit has been under scrutiny since December’s dismissal of Black scientist Timnit Gebru, which prompted thousands of Google workers to protest. She and Mitchell, who is white, had called for more diversity among Google’s research staff and expressed concern that the company was starting to censor research critical of its products.

Gebru said Google fired her after she questioned an order not to publish a paper claiming AI that mimics language could hurt marginalized populations.

Mitchell and Gebru co-led the ethics in artificial intelligence team for about two years.

Google AI research director Zoubin Ghahramani and a company legal representative informed Mitchell’s team of her firing on Friday in a meeting called at short notice, a person familiar with the matter said. The person said little explanation was given for the dismissal. Google declined to comment.

Google employee Alex Hanna said on Twitter the company was running a “smear campaign” against Mitchell and Gebru, with whom she worked closely.

Google did not immediately comment on those claims. Its statement said of Mitchell: “We confirmed that there were multiple violations of our code of conduct, as well as of our security policies, which included the exfiltration of confidential business-sensitive documents and private data of other employees.”

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. Reporting by Paresh Dave and Jeffrey Dastin; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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