FTC Appointee Was Pushed Out of Google for Political Activism

Internal documents show Meredith Whittaker was reprimanded for insubordination

Meredith Whittaker / YouTube screenshot
November 9, 2021

The Biden administration's choice to advise the Federal Trade Commission on artificial intelligence was pushed out of her position at Google for being too political and insubordinate, according to internal documents reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon.

Meredith Whittaker announced Friday that she is joining the FTC as a "Senior Advisor on AI," a position that reports directly to chairwoman Lina Khan. The former Google employee made headlines in 2019 for organizing walkouts in opposition to the company's partnership with the U.S. military. Internal reviews obtained by the Free Beacon show that Whittaker was repeatedly warned to focus on her job responsibilities and left Google in July 2019 after she was asked to take a more limited role following several critical performance reviews in the first quarter of that year.

Under President Joe Biden, the FTC has embraced the far-left positions Whittaker espouses. Khan has argued that Amazon, Google, and others may be monopolies even if they don't raise prices for consumers. FTC commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter has said that antitrust enforcement "can't be value-neutral" and that the FTC has a mandate to tackle "structural and systemic racism." Carl Szabo, vice president of tech industry group NetChoice, told the Free Beacon that Khan, Whittaker, and Slaughter share "an obsession with using antitrust to shape progressive policy."

Although Whittaker has presented herself as an expert in artificial intelligence ethics, some former colleagues have accused her of inflating her credentials, noting that she has no formal training in the field and has done no peer-reviewed research. One manager described her impact inside Google as "nonexistent in the AI bias space, if not negative" and said that "there is not a lot of value" in the work she touted.

Under Whittaker, Google's AI Now Institute received funding from liberal donors, including the Ford and Omidyar Foundations. In her performance review, Whittaker highlighted her work on the institute as her major contribution at Google, prompting a manager to comment, "This isn't her job at Google." Whittaker made her priorities clear in a 2019 blog post that announced her departure from Google, in which she noted her commitment to "organizing for an accountable tech industry."

Whittaker has a history of controversial statements. In 2019, she called Heritage Foundation president Kay Coles James an "outspoken bigot" after Google named James to its artificial intelligence advisory board. Whittaker in her attacks on James said the idea of viewpoint diversity is a rhetorical tool of the alt-right. She has called the gender gap in the artificial intelligence industry "an emergency" and called on Google to fire an employee who suggested that innate sex differences might contribute to the gap. Whittaker has also attacked white women who voted for former president Donald Trump and called out women in "positions of patriarchal power."

Whittaker's appointment will likely open another front in the battle over the FTC's role. Republicans in Congress who think tech companies are a threat are divided over whether to trust the FTC with more power. Republican senators Josh Hawley (Mo.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), and Tom Cotton (Ark.) have all cosponsored bills that would give the FTC more power to go after tech companies. Other lawmakers, including Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah), have slammed the Biden FTC for political "abuses."

Whittaker did not respond to multiple requests for comment.