Google’s Jigsaw unit, which was created with the aim of protecting communities and nonprofits from online hate speech, disinformation, and surveillance, has been hit severely by recent layoffs at parent company Alphabet. According to three anonymous employees who were laid off in January, Jigsaw’s workforce of 50 employees has now been reduced by at least a third, with between 30 to 35 employees remaining. This reduction is significantly higher compared to the overall workforce reduction at Alphabet, which saw a reduction of about 6% of its total employees.
The jigsaw was founded in 2010 as Google Ideas and later became a standalone unit under Alphabet in 2015, before being folded back into Google five years later. Despite not being a moneymaker, Jigsaw was seen as a costly but societally beneficial organization, which may have been the reason behind the recent cuts, according to two former employees.
The loss of Jigsaw’s chief and founder Jared Cohen, along with the recent cuts, have raised concerns that Google is phasing out Jigsaw because it isn’t focused on turning a profit. This could potentially threaten the future development of tools to protect under-threat communities. Jigsaw’s early days saw it producing free tools for nonprofits facing cyberattacks, and in recent months, its virtual private network, Outline VPN, was expanded to help protect Iranians from government surveillance.
One former employee stated, “We’re doing a whole range of things that are just super good for regulation, super good for society, and none of that apparently matters. Apparently, if you’re not making stupid, generative AI, you’re useless.” This sentiment echoes the frustration felt by the Alphabet Workers Union, which held a rally for current and laid-off workers outside the company’s New York City offices to protest the job cuts. Union member and Google engineer Alberta Devor said in a statement, “We are outraged that our colleagues unceremoniously lost their livelihoods while Google continues to remain extremely profitable. That is why we are standing here together to demand Google prioritize transparency and its workers over shareholder profits.”
Jigsaw spokesperson Shira Almeleh stated that Jigsaw is continuing to work on products and is focused on understanding the spread of harmful misinformation and violent extremism, reducing toxicity in online speech, and defending access to the open Web. However, the significant reduction in Jigsaw’s workforce raises questions about the future of its projects and its ability to protect under-threat communities.
In conclusion, the recent cuts at Jigsaw have sparked concerns that Google is phasing out Jigsaw’s altruistic work because it isn’t focused on turning a profit. The significant reduction in Jigsaw’s workforce raises questions about the future of its projects and its ability to protect under-threat communities. The cuts have also sparked frustration among current and laid-off workers, who have called for transparency and for Google to prioritize its workers over shareholder profits.