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Google shuts down Amazon unionization website (thestranger.com)
195 points by ftfb on Feb 6, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 64 comments

The union group may have good cause to sue Google for defamation. Google has the right to terminate their use of Google services. But for Google to say that unionization information violates their terms of service [1] may be defamatory. Nothing in the terms of service prohibits this.

On top of that, Google's action may violate the National Labor Relations Act.[2] This could be construed as collusion between employers to violate the rights of workers to organize. Google has a record of colluding with other employers to violate labor law, from the famous "anti-poaching agreement".[3] So Google could have a hard time in court over this, since a pattern of illegal anti-labor activity has already been established.

[1] https://www.google.com/intl/en/sites/help/program_policy.htm... [2] https://www.nlrb.gov/resources/national-labor-relations-act [3] http://fortune.com/2015/09/03/koh-anti-poach-order/

" But for Google to say that unionization information violates their terms of service [1] may be defamatory"

No, it isn't. Because that would require google having said that. Google in fact, has said or written nothing as far as anyone can tell.

"On top of that, Google's action may violate the National Labor Relations Act.[2]"

No, again, it almost certainly doesn't. This is a pretty ridiculous claim, backed up by roughly no case law. It's pretty easy to see it would swallow pretty much all law if it was read the way you are :)

"So Google could have a hard time in court over this, since a pattern of illegal anti-labor activity has already been established."

This would pretty much be inadmissible in court to show anything, as evidence of "bad character" is not permissible to show someone did something in a different case.

In particular, on the last part, see FRE rule 404:

"(a) Character Evidence.

(1) Prohibited Uses. Evidence of a person’s character or character trait is not admissible to prove that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character or trait.

... (b) Crimes, Wrongs, or Other Acts.

(1) Prohibited Uses. Evidence of a crime, wrong, or other act is not admissible to prove a person’s character in order to show that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character."

(Note the above is basic federal evidence law :P, if you wanted to sue over the NLR act. Most state evidence rules are similar in the civil realm, and differ a bit in the criminal realm)

> No, it isn't. Because that would require google having said that. Google in fact, has said or written nothing as far as anyone can tell.

When you tried going to the site Google would give you a page saying it had been removed for violating the TOS.

TL;DR It's not defamation, and even if you could plausibly make out a claim, you'd lose

First, i was talking about the statement that the parent claimed was made that google felt unionization information violated it's TOS. Google has made no such statement that anyone has seen.

This is in fact, one of the main reason's it almost certainly can't be defamatory. Here, it looks like (and i say looks like because i still haven't seen real evidence. The links go to an error page that you can get to at any time :P) Google stated it took the page down for violating its TOS. If that is a true statement (it is irrelevant whether it violates the TOS, only if the statement is literally true), it's not defamation in any jurisdiction.

Let's assume for a second that such a thing would be something actionable under defamation law (probably not).

Truth and statements of reasonable opinion based on facts are defenses are defenses to defamation in almost all jurisdictions (including CA)

On the truth side, if Google removed the site because it believed it violated the TOS (and not for some other reason), then this is not a defamatory statement, as it is factually true that this is why google removed it. The secondary implied statement that it violates the TOS is almost certainly non-actionable[1]. For this view of teh statement, it's irrelevant whether it did violate the TOS, it matters is the statement literally true - ie is this why google removed it.

Further, the law does not require absolute truth, and in fact, in a defamation lawsuit like this one (a matter of public concern), the plaintiff will be the one having to prove the statement is false. The defendant will not have to prove it is true[2]

So someone is going to have to prove that google did not in fact, take it down for violating the TOS (again, it's irrelevant whether google was right or wrong about whether it violates the TOS). Or prove that the possibly-implied "it is a tos violation" is not a valid or reasonable opinion.

In a case like this, depending on the circumstances, the plaintiff may also have to prove Google acted with actual malice (IE knew it was a false statement).

This is all a long way of saying: Defamation isn't what people think it is. I am allowed to state all the facts i want. Defamation by implication is not a thing in california. The closest you come is defamation per se. You'd have to claim false light or something in california (and in false light, the implication would have to be not just false, but highly offensive to a reasonable person. You'd fail this test since most reasonable people don't give a crap if i brand you a tos violator, and in fact, joke about violating EULA's and TOS's.). You'd also have to prove negligence.

Good luck with all that :)

[1] If you state the facts on which you are basing your opinion, and the opinion you state could be reasonably drawn from those truthful facts, you will be protected even if your opinion turns out to be incorrect. This also assumes you are in a defamation by implication state. California is not one of them.

[2] *As a matter of law, in cases involving public figures or matters of public concern, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove falsity in a defamation action. Nizam-Aldine v. City of Oakland, 47 Cal. App. 4th 364 (Cal. Ct. App. 1996).

With perhaps the rare exception for specific kinds of discrimination, can't Google pretty much terminate use of it's services to anyone, for any reason? Assuming they aren't paid customers, it's not like Google has a contractual obligation with said group. Of course these sorts of douche moves reflect poorly on a company and people may choose to boycott or campaign against in response, but that's about it.

This is a specific kind of discrimination. Labor organizing is one of the specific kinds of activity protected by law.

Sure. There are things that Amazon can't do to interfere with organizing at Amazon. I would be surprised to learn the law covers third parties.

It's an issue involving third parties if the third party colluded. If there was any communication between Amazon and Google in this matter, that would be a problem.

The NLRB has recently been deciding cases involving employee criticism of employers in social media.[1] "The focus of many of these recent rulings has been the protection of the right of employees to communicate with their coworkers about their terms and conditions of employment. Indeed, the NLRB has increasingly defined the contours of this right expansively." There are lawyers who take on such cases.[2]

[1] http://www.postschell.com/site/files/post__schell__nlrb_arti... [2] http://employee-rights-atty.com/the-censor-he-has-a-face-and...

Neither of those address third parties. They both involve relations between employers and employees. Even if Amazon did somehow convince Google to take the site down, there are plenty of other avenues for employees to communicate. You would have a very hard time selling this in court.

"...for any reason?" No, they cannot. However, they can indeed terminate use of their services to anyone for no reason. Had they not given a reason, I venture to say they'd have a better defense should this ever go to court. EDIT: grammatical

Hence defamation. "We did it because we can" is very different from "we did it because you broke the rules."

Definitively not for any reason. I can't terminate it because somebody is black, for example.

> Assuming they aren't paid customers, it's not like Google has a contractual obligation with said group.

If you hold a monopoly, or near monopoly, you automatically get that obligation.

Is Google Sites a monopoly or near monopoly?

I misunderstood the situation – Google search would have matched the description, of course.

Hell, even if you provide certain services for free you can be held to certain legal obligations.

Why speculate so much about law when you're not a lawyer? I dont think it helps to spread misinformation when you're not an authority...

You know Animats, his education, and his professional history better than I do, apparently.

animats is John Nagle, who's name you might know from


It wasn't very clear to me how google could "shut down" a site. So I checked the archive of the site in the wayback machine, linked in the article. Here's the url:


So they were running on Google site's. The site violated that TOS. While I don't know the particulars, this seems like less of a story than if Google had somehow wiped an ordinary domain from search results.

I had the same initial reaction. I wonder why they used google sites as a hosting platform to begin with. there's a dozen better, more visible alternatives.

For any non-technical folk, it's a very simple to setup and use service. Not the best option by any means.

It's really easy to create a squarespace site, or a wordpress blog, or pretty much any number of things. Hell at the likely TPS for the site it would be easy to self host on a small VPS.

What % of humans can set up a WordPress install on a VPS? .001%?

Shared hosting is still magnitudes ahead of VPS deploys in terms of numbers, and in those environments it's easier than creating a Gmail account.

How many VPS's are free (indefinitely)?

None that I know of.

Yeah, like AWS

What part of the TOS did they violate?

There's this from [1]:

"Google may also stop providing Services to you, or add or create new limits to our Services at any time."


Yes, of course there's an ass-covering provision in there that says they can shut you down at any time, with no recourse.

We'd still like to know why they did so, in this case.

They were advocating for the interests of labor over the interests of large high tech companies. Any success that group attains against Amazon would also damage Google's interests.

Why has this been downvoted? Remember all the stories we've heard about Google refusing to give earned bonuses to employees who shared their salary information? What about the google exec who was blacklisted for the offhand comment that software engineers should probably unionize? We've seen plenty of evidence on HN of this sentiment. Though Google today might have changed its views.

Probably because we have no idea why Google shut down the site - they're not always clear and it's not always obvious.

Stating that Google shut this particular site down because 'they were advocating for the interests of labor over the interests of large high tech companies' is long-jumping to a completely unsupported conclusion.

That makes sense--the comment wasn't speculative, and we do not know for sure. Given the history though it might very well be true.

It might. I don't think it passes the Occam's Razor test, though - given Google, I'm more inclined to go with 'an algorithm did something automatically somewhere.'

I don't know about Google, but many companies automatically block any resource that receives X number of DMCA or abuse letters.

While a human being looks at it; they just put up a generic "this blank has been blocked for terms of service violations".

Or an algorithm churned out a list for human "review".

And someone making $200k a year probably spent about 8 seconds thinking about whether to flush this particular site.

"Can't they find someone else to do this job? My stomach aches. I hear there's a new sushi chef over the next building..."

It'd be extremely short sighted to stop providing free services for this group, given that (a) they'll make press noise about it and (b) it is extremely easy for them to set up again anywhere else. They're literally just a text web page, they don't need Google site support in anyway.

it doesn't seem possible to violate that term

User-Violation != Provider-Choice

Don't these kinds of services usually have a bandwidth limit? Maybe they went over.

Perhaps someone thought that the site was impersonating Amazon Corporate.

None of the blog post links work, though. Does anyone have a working link to a sample story?

Over at Team Wayback, we recommend that bloggers use "save page now" on individual posts, or use blog software that does this for them.

In this case, there wasn't any save-page-now involved. We got the front page of the site on Dec 22, but didn't try to crawl the subpages (the actual posts) until Feb 6, which is after the site was disabled. This lag between front page and interior pages is pretty typical behavior for our Heretrix crawl queues, alas.

And it looks like Team Wayback has now successfully captured at least the articles I tested.

Note: you have to select the latest capture as the default still shows the Goog's off-line messages.

The live site came back up. Looks like 100% of the sub-pages are now in the Wayback. I didn't look to see if it was our crawler or save-page-now that put them there.

This article seems stale - the site is working again: https://sites.google.com/site/thefaceofamazon/ .The link in the article is a bit deceptive: It's not to the site, it's directly to an error message.

Did someone here verify that the site ever actually down, or was this a cool publicity stunt?

The site was definitely down a few hours go with a terse message about it breaking "terms of service".

I would guess that the site is back up because the article was posted to Hacker News. I expect someone high enough to matter at Google saw it, and reversed the shutdown.

Here is the site that was disabled, as it was on Jan. 18 on archive.org: https://web.archive.org/web/20160118052937/http://sites.goog...

"Amazon has a management abuse problem. This was made clear in the August article by the New York Times. Even worse is that Amazon is in denial about this problem and claims that all employees should report their management problems to HR or to Jeff Bezos himself. This site documents all of the cases where Amazon managers have mistreated their employees and escalating only made it worse and never helped the employees deal with their bad managers.

Amazon is a great company for its customers. It's about time that it became a great company for its really hard working employees as well.

To add your story to this site, email theFACEofAmazon @ gmail.com or anonymously leave a voicemail at (425) 310-2347. We will never disclose your personal information, so please include as many details as you are comfortable sharing."

I saw the original posting while it was still alive and found it really helpful. Yet more similar stories to the ones I occasionally hear (I'm in Seattle). The immediacy of those stories tends to slip away and I find myself applying for interesting AWS jobs. Reminders like this make me press their "Withdraw from All Jobs" button. Better me pressing it now, than it being pressed for me later.

You know, multi-level boards have a long history in the United States and the world. I would like to see other representatives on boards. I know that Denmark has required employees on boards for years, but I think that system can be improved. I would like to see something more like "corporativism" - where interest groups can be represented on boards in order to force corporations to consider society as a whole, and not just their own obscene profits.


I am particularly interested in the "FIRED FOR CONTACTING JEFF" story.

The site’s back up, so your wish has been granted: https://sites.google.com/site/thefaceofamazon/home/fired-for...

Doesn't go into much detail either unfortunately.

From the article: UPDATE (2/7/2016, 4:33 p.m.): Google tells us that the website was flagged by another user as spam. After Google manually reviewed the site and found this was not the case, they put it back online.

And you can tell whether one is a chemist by the way they pronounce "unionization".

"unionized" is a bit better for this purpose. It's rare for chemists to talk about the process of ceasing to be ionized.

Another shibboleth is "coax": One syllable or two?

Definitely a very heavy-handed move on Google's part. They could at least have told these people why their site was being shut down. The fact that they didn't says a lot about how Google actually views its customers.

I would love to be able to donate to the site's owners to keep their site running on another hosting service.

This is blatant violation of the terms of service of Google. Time to sue Google.

They brought the website back. So what does that mean? Someone made a mistake, problem undone.

It means that a lot more people will read the articles on the site than before.

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