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July 8, 2007

The Pressure of Google NDA

Peter Harkins met some of his friends who are now Google employees, but their conversations couldn't flow naturally because Googlers had to think if they are about to disclose some confidential information from Google. As you probably know, Google employees sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), which could be similar to this NDA you have to sign if you visit Googleplex.

"Google employees get distracted by mentally rereading their NDA and figuring out what they can say, can't say, and can't say that they can't say. It just gets worse if you keep talking and extrapolating (that is to say, holding a conversation) because you're giving them O(n2 interrelations + m potential suggestions from them) more topics to analyze. I've never quite managed to crash them, but I imagine it's entirely possible given the NP nature of conversations," jokes Peter.

The confidential information includes: "(a) trade secrets; (b) financial information, including pricing; (c) technical information, including research, development, procedures, algorithms, data, designs, and know-how; (d) business information, including operations, planning, marketing interests, and products; (e) the terms of any agreement and the discussions, negotiations and proposals related to any agreement; and (f) information acquired during any facilities tours." Maybe Google should offer a Googler-only mobile app that monitors a conversation and alerts you when you start to discuss sensitive topics.


  1. i'd suggest getting some friends who are not cowards.

    the nda is there to protect google in case of malicious intent, and to prevent drunken rambling from getting too out of control too quickly - nothing more.

  2. The NDA is there to keep up a fabricated public identity. What else could they be hiding? Surely they're not worried with other big companies (Yahoo, Microsoft). These companies can easily get their info...

  3. This is a specious article: virtually all tech companies require their employees to sign confidentiality agreements, so there's nothing special about Google in that regard. What is special about Google and other high profile companies, e.g. Apple, is that any tiny bit of detail leaked by an employee could turn into a major headline, whether detail is right, wrong or just speculation. Employees of these types of companies are probably far more aware of this and therefore more careful about what they say.

  4. Of course Google isn't the only company that uses NDA's, but a search for [Google NDA] shows that many people think it's very strict.

    "Google's Evil NDA"
    "Google's Orwellian NDA"
    "Google's NDA [uses] the worst contractual language I've seen"
    "Google NDA is a bit much"
    (these are quotes from different articles found on the web mostly generated by this story)

  5. I interviewed at the Googleplex back in 2001, and I don't remember the NDA existing at that time, however it might have. I certainly didn't have a badge.

  6. I interviewed in 2006 - the funniest clause in the NDA said that even the fact that Google was interviewing me was confidential. The whole thing read like something you'd hand a (much smaller) company you were going to partner with.