Google’s Legal Chief Faces Rebuke by Judge Over Missing Chats | Tech News

Google’s Legal Chief Faces Rebuke by Judge Over Missing Chats

A federal judge reprimanded Alphabet Inc.’s chief legal officer over allegations that Google intentionally destroyed sensitive internal communications relevant to two ongoing antitrust lawsuits despite court orders to preserve evidence.

By:BLOOMBERG
| Updated on: Nov 18 2023, 06:29 IST
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Google has also been accused in other court cases of using inappropriate tactics to avoid sharing information while evidence is gathered in litigation. (REUTERS)

 A federal judge reprimanded Alphabet Inc.'s chief legal officer over allegations that Google intentionally destroyed sensitive internal communications relevant to two ongoing antitrust lawsuits despite court orders to preserve evidence.

In an unusual move, US District Judge James Donato, who's presiding over a trial in San Francisco over Epic Games Inc.'s accusations that the Google Play app store is anticompetitive, ordered the company's longtime top lawyer, Kent Walker, to appear in court to address questions about the technology giant's record-keeping practices. 

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Thursday's hearing, conducted in the absence of the jury, came after multiple Google executives, including Alphabet Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai, acknowledged at the witness stand that they incorrectly marked emails as being subject to attorney-client privilege so they can't be forwarded or programmed Google Chat settings such that their communications would disappear after 24 hours. They did so despite a court order that required the company to preserve certain employee communications and other internal documents, Epic claims. 

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Donato quickly grew exasperated at Walker's responses.

“You're tap dancing around here,” Donato said, implying that Walker was evading questions by Epic's lawyer on the company's chat preservation protocol.

“Why didn't you just preserve the chats and turn the history on as you did for emails?” Donato asked, adding that other company executives have already testified that the company had the ability to do that. He also asked Walker why the company relied on an employee's discretion to save chats.

Google has also been accused in other court cases of using inappropriate tactics to avoid sharing information while evidence is gathered in litigation. The US Justice Department sought penalties against Google in a separate antitrust case over the company's search business practices, claiming the company urged employees to discuss sensitive topics via chats that would be automatically deleted after 24 hours. 

But no US judge has gone as far as summoning the company's top legal officer to explain internal data preservation protocol followed during legal fights and regulatory scrutiny.

Walker, who joined Google in 2006, has in recent years quietly become one of Google's most influential officials at the same time as Google and other big technology companies have come under unprecedented regulatory scrutiny.

Walker attended Harvard University and Stanford Law School and spent his early career as a Justice Department attorney. He later did stints at eBay Inc., Netscape Communications Corp., and AOL before joining Google. 

Through Walker's long tenure at the Mountain View, California-based company, he's witnessed the company's legal challenges grow in the US and Europe from copyright and privacy issues to antitrust investigations and artificial intelligence ethics. 

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First Published Date: 18 Nov, 06:29 IST
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