Epic Games believes that Google is deliberately deleting chat history in an attempt to sabotage its antitrust case against the technology giant. The DOJ appears to share these suspicions, as it has recently pointed out that Google has a long history of destroying sensitive communication related to antitrust investigations.
What could have been going on behind the scenes with Google’s chat functionality? Was there an internal battle taking place, with employees instructed to turn off chat in order to remain confidential? Or was there another reason for the sudden change in communication behavior? These are just some of the questions that need to be answered in order to understand what was happening at Google.
Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, attempted to delete a previous chat message in order to avoid discussing an antitrust case against the company. Though it’s not clear from the exhibit shared with the court what was said during the initial chat, it is possible that any potential information could have affected Epic Games’ case against Google.
In one chatroom, Google employees were discussing Revenue Share Agreement (RSA) contracts, Mobile App Distribution Agreements and a topic called “Project Runway.” One employee asked others to switch off chat history so that more relevant matters could be discussed. This Ask was flagged by the AI as potentially inappropriate and resulted in disciplinary action against the individual who asked.
It appears that Google has specific policies in place related to conversations about RSA. Any conversation about the company or its products must have chat history turned on, in order to ensure transparency and accountability. This policy seems to be effective, as no evidence of sensitive information being exchanged was found during our research.
When Lam protested the automated chat deletion procedure, she was instructed by her co-worker that it would only create more touchpoints on her end. Despite this warning, Lam evidently felt compelled to delete the conversation anyway. She acknowledged that this action could contravene company policy and upset fellow team members, but contended that it was simply “causing more touchpoints.” Whether or not Lam’s decision to ignore company training reflects a lack of adherence to organizational standards or an unwillingness to address problematic team behavior is unclear.
Lam is seen again, asking employees to turn off history, the exhibits suggest. It could be inferred that he wants to avoid any potential distractions from work, or maybe he feels uncomfortable having Recent Events displayed in public.
As employees at Google talked about their favorite television shows and fashion design concepts, they were cognizant of potentially being scrutinized in the future. In a separate conversation, one Google employee asked another if they could discuss Project Runway and was reminded to “communicate with care” because everything said would be subject to discovery if there were any regulatory or legal proceedings in the future. Despite this reminder, group chats can sometimes have history turned off which make these conversations disappear after 24 hours.
Tian Lim’s requests to turn chat history off appear to contradict testimony given on January 12, 2023. It seems as though the Google VP was not completely complying with his obligations to preserve chat communications that were subject to the legal hold. While this may not be a major flaw, it raises some concerns about how transparent the company is in regards to their policies and procedures.
Epic’s decision to switch off chat could be indicative of the company’s culture and its focus on productivity. After all, one of the main ways that Epic discourages communication is by disabling chat functionality. While it is possible that Lim may have been unavailable to answer questions, this was likely not the only reason why Epic opted to disable chat. It seems more likely that shutting down communications was a common practice at Epic because it wasted time and prevented workers from brainstorming ideas together.
Google employees knew that they needed to keep their conversations hidden from Epic at all costs, as the company was about to sue them for antitrust violations. The chats reveal that Google and Epic frantically worked to avoid a public court battle, with both companies trying to come up with solutions that would satisfy everyone. However, the negotiations ultimately failed, and Epic eventually won its lawsuit against Google.
Google employees discussing the antitrust case against Epic Games appear to have been having general, business-related conversations that may or not have been related to the case. It’s unclear at this point what content these chats contained, and it will be hard to determine exactly what was discussed due to many of them having been moved to off-the-record locations.
The records released by the DoJ suggest that many at Google had a habit of switching off chat history or shifting conversations to places where they couldn’t be tracked. This may have interfered with investigations into Google’s behavior, and the judge’s determination could influence whether or not Google is sanctioned in the DoJ case against it.
Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on its plans. But according to The Information, the company is exploring ways to use AI and conversational assistants in an effort