Google is investigating a member of its ethical AI team after they were found to have taken thousands of sensitive files from its servers and shared the information with external accounts.
The investigation follows the forced exit of Timnit Gebru, a Black woman and prominent researcher on the team whose departure provoked controversy over Google‘s attitude to employees from ethnic minority backgrounds.
One of Ms Gebru’s colleagues, Margaret Mitchell, “had been using automated scripts to look through her messages to find examples showing discriminatory treatment of Gebru,” as Axios reported.
In a statement sent to Axios, Google confirmed the investigation.
“Our security systems automatically lock an employee’s corporate account when they detect that the account is at risk of compromise due to credential problems or when an automated rule involving the handling of sensitive data has been triggered,” it said.
“In this instance, yesterday our systems detected that an account had exfiltrated thousands of files and shared them with multiple external accounts. We explained this to the employee earlier today.”
The precise nature of Ms Gebru’s departure has been disputed.
The researcher and her colleagues claimed she had been fired, while Google executives said they accepted her offer to resign. Ms Gebru responded that she had not offered to resign, only threatened to.
Inspiring the controversy was a paper which Ms Gebru had co-authored on the risks of AI, including biases and the environmental impact of developing the technology.
She claimed that she had been asked by Google to withdraw the paper, with the company’s head of AI research, Jeff Dean, explaining that the company felt the paper ignored relevant research on mitigating many of the risks it described.
In a memo circulated internally at Google in December, the company’s chief executive Sundar Pichai said he was looking into how Ms Gebru was treated at the company, although no findings from that inquiry have yet been published