Activists target Google employee at his Berkeley home

Screen shot 2014-01-23 at 7.42.31 AMActivists calling themselves the Counterforce on Tuesday made Google engineer and Berkeley resident Anthony Levandowski the focus of their protests against what they say are the Mountain View company’s evil surveillance techniques.

At around 7 a.m. a group of activists say they went to the street where Google employee Anthony Levandowski lives in Berkeley to stage a demonstration outside his home. According to the activists, they rang Levandowski’s doorbell, then stood outside the house for about 45 minutes holding a banner that read “Google’s Future Stops Here.” They then watched Levandowski leave his home.

The anonymous protesters then placed flyers under the windshields of cars in the neighborhood. The fliers include a photo of Levandowski’s home and a lengthy statement that describes the Google staffer as bringing evil into the world. The headline reads: “Anthony Levandowski is building an unconscionable world of surveillance, control and automation. He is also your neighbor.”

Thirty-three-year old UC Berkeley alum Levandowski lives with his fiancée and two young children in the Elmwood neighborhood. According to a November 2013 profile in the New Yorker, he is an engineer at Google X, the company’s “semi-secret” lab for experimental technology. He has been a key player in the development of Google Street View and Google’s self-driving cars.

Shortly after 8 a.m. the activists were at Ashby BART station where they tried to block one of Google’s employee shuttle buses from leaving for the company’s headquarters in Mountain View.

Berkeley Police were alerted at 8:18 a.m. of the protest by Google security personnel, according to police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats. Google reported approximately 10 protestors blocking a bus in the 3100 block of Adeline Street, Coats told Berkeleyside. “As officers arrived on scene a small group was in the roadway blocking the bus. At the same time a BART police officer had arrived and communicated with the group and asked them to leave the roadway. The group left the roadway, no further police action was required,” she said.

Over the past few months activists have been staging protests and blocking the path of many Google employee shuttle buses in San Francisco and Oakland. They have targeted the luxury buses because they say they symbolize gentrification and elitism. The activists claim high-paid tech employees are squeezing out the middle and working classes from the city.

On Tuesday, San Francisco’s Municipal Railway Agency board voted to impose fees and restrictions on the private use of public bus stops. The new $1 a day per stop will cost private bus companies — which run routes for Google and other Silicon Valley employers — about $100,000 a year, according to the paper. Last week UC Berkeley released a study on the impact of the shuttle buses on commutes and home location choices.


Garden Village: Anthony Levandowski owns the property the new development will be built on. Image: Stanley Saitowitz/Natoma Architects

The Berkeley campaign focuses on surveillance and threats to privacy, according to the flyer distributed around the neighborhood. The Counterforce flyer enumerates many of Google’s projects, describes a promotional video for its self-driving car, and cites the company’s motto: “Don’t be evil.” It also details Levandowski’s involvement in a mixed-use housing development called Garden Village planned for Dwight Way near downtown Berkeley. Levandowski owns the property the project will be built on.

The flyer describes Levandowski as descending the steps of his home (described elsewhere by the group as “pompous” and a “palace”) wearing Google Glass, carrying a baby and holding a tablet with his free arm. The photograph of the Google engineer’s home includes a clearly visible house number and was sourced from Google Street View. Berkeleyside is not naming the street on which Levandowski lives.

The flyer concludes: “Have courage. Find others who feel the same way and block a tech bus. Steal from the techies you babysit for. Take down surveillance cameras. Go hard: The time is now.”

Levandowski has not returned emails from Berkeleyside asking for comment.

A neighbor of Levandowski’s, who wishes to remain anonymous, said she found one of the flyers on her car Tuesday morning. After reading it, she walked up the street and removed many of the flyers from neighbors’ cars. She said she did not believe any neighbor should be treated to what she described as “vigilante justice.” “The fact that the writer did not identify him or herself warranted my anonymous countermeasure,” she said.

Alerted to the activists’ action by Berkeleyside, Councilman Gordon Wozniak, who represents the district where Levandowski has his home, said such a protest could lead to dangerous consequences. “It’s one thing to protest against a corporation by demonstrating beside a bus, but going after an individual at his home is a bad escalation,” he said. “Homes are supposed to be a safe place. This would be scary [for the homeowner].” Wozniak said he would consult with Berkeley’s city manager and chief of police on the matter.

Local lawyer Tom Miller said the protest was likely not illegal. There is a fine balance between the right to privacy and the right of freedom of speech, he said: “Lines need to be drawn.” But, he said, if the activists were on public property and were not advocating violence they were probably not breaking the law. Miller said the protest and written statement is “very much in the Berkeley tradition of questioning important issues about society.”

“Opposing what is happening in our society regarding surveillance and identifying people who are involved in creating these things is perfectly legitimate, as long as you’re not saying anything untruthful,” he said.

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  • John Freeman

    It seems curious that you keep ignoring such a simple question.

    Your question doesn’t make any sense and worse, you keep deploying it as a non-sequitor to various conversations. I guess you are trying to be a rhetorical bully or something. In any event, nonsense questions have no answers.

  • Guest

    A nonsense question? Not to anyone with even the most remedial of reading skills. Let me break it down to bullet points for you:

    1.) As one of the two people posting here who supports these protesters and has said that “Google has no right to exist.” how do you feel
    about the targeting of Levandowski by this group?

    2.) Is there any evidence that Levandowski is directly implicated in the PRISM spying program (one of the few specific bad things that Google is involved with) or even directly linking him to any of the other schizophrenic ranting nonsense in the flyer passed out by the protesters?

    There is some particularly rich hypocrisy in someone who claims that a group they dislike has “no right to exist” complaining about rhetorical bullying.

  • John Freeman

    A nonsense question? [….]

    Well, guest, since you insist, since you wrongly attribute views to me, since you ask a meaningless question using buzzwords from the Snowden leaks, since you can’t get through a simple comment without gratuitous rubbish like “schizophrenic ranting”, since you accuse me of being a hypocrite…

    What I can say about my feelings regarding the protesters is that I think you are doing them a modest service by making opposition to them look so thoroughly moronic.

  • Guest

    Well, guest, since you insist, since you wrongly attribute views to me…

    Which views are you referring to? Surely not your comment that “Google has no right to exist.” since you’ve even talked about setting up a Google has no right to exist FAQ on another one of those “evil” social media sites.

    Do you mean to say that you do not support these protesters? That seems hard to believe since you are one of the only people here speaking in their defense.

    Do you mean to say that you don’t think that making Ahmadinejad-esque comments that a group you disagree with has “no right to exist” doesn’t count as the very kind of “rhetorical bullying” you’re complaining about here?

    You’ve been so long-winded in the discussion so far, why suddenly clam up on us?

  • Broose Lard

    Google’s presence is strongest, most people are caught up in the
    surveillance that it conducts regardless of what consumer choices they
    make. As an example, this is true of all faculty, staff, and students
    of the University of California regardless of what consumer choices
    they make. It is true of anyone who corresponds by email (knowingly or
    not) with a gmail user. It is true of anyone who visits a web site
    that uses Google’s advertising products. The list goes on.

  • John Freeman

    Where did I say what, now?

  • Guest

    Ah, so you’ve decided to lie about it. Disappointing but not a surprise really. I’d shy away from it too if I made such an outrageous comment.

  • John Freeman

    Ah, so you’ve decided to lie about it.


  • Guest

    How else would you characterize a denial of fact?

  • Irene

    This is harassment! These people should be arrested!

  • Becky O’Malley

    Please keep your armed bears out of my backyard! Guns are a lot more dangerous than obnoxious protesters.

  • thomas Jr.

    If I was this guy and these “protesters”[how I see them: hypebeast scenesters] I’d be outside with my Louisville slugger. But then again, I’m a New Yorker, and part Sicilian.

  • Hank

    Berkeley Freaks!

  • Hank

    Classic Liberal Anti Semitism!

    So sad.

  • gimpytroll

    Picture related.

  • Michael Varian Daly

    Please don’t bother him. He’s only following orders.

  • I’m glad you didn’t include the street, otherwise I wouldn’t have passed the link on.

    On the other hand demonstrating at his house is brilliant *and* appropriate, because privacy is a big issue raised by what the tech industry is doing.

    I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes, but it happened once in my neighborhood in Woodside (also in Calif). A neighbor of mine owned a big store and had lots of employees who were angry with him, so they went on a march through the middle of the town and to his house handing out leaflets saying what the neighbor was doing, from their point of view, of course.

    It was a very effective way of getting a message through.

    I know from experience that internally the tech industry thinks users have no choice but to accept the deal they offer. Well, the people are ingenious, and they figured out a way to get some negotiating leverage.

  • Walt French

    Quite obviously, you cannot force an individual to have a dialogue, and the Google employee apparently wishes none of it.

    So the “protest” against an individual reeks of an attempt at intimidation, coercion far worse than any insidious behavior that the individual himself could have any responsibility for.

    I’m proud of my own protests against various wars and anti-Constitutional discrimination. Google’s behaviors are something that might be addressed by a boycott — perhaps of their advertisers, hitting them where their wallet is, not against individuals who are NOT the source of the concerns.

  • Guest

    The problem is that this specific employee does not own Google and is not one of the people in Google who makes the kinds of decisions that these people are angry about. This is a guy who designs driver-less vehicles, not the CEO or founder.

  • Mbfarrel
  • Grey

    The issue of privacy is certainly fair game in our land where one is free to speak, but targeting the employee seems to be psychological terror-inducing for him. I agree with Guest dave (below).