Yesterday, I posted (and shared via Android Police’s official Twitter account) that Android Police will no longer be accepting any access from Andy Rubin’s startup Essential. That means no more press conferences, briefings, embargoes, or review devices. This came in light of Rubin’s announcement of the company’s new phone, apparently called GEM.
In the time between the announcement of the PH-1 over two years ago and yesterday’s tease of GEM, a significant story about Rubin was published: The New York Times reported he was paid $90 million to leave Google because of a serious and, according to Google’s own internal investigation, “credible” allegation that he coerced another Google employee into having sexual relations with him. At the time, Rubin was a high-ranking executive at Google, leading its since-failed robotics division, Replicant. According to sources who spoke with the Times, this was not the first time Rubin was alleged to be involved with a non-reporting subordinate at Google, and it was also not the first time his personal life had caused problems inside the company. (I also do not hold Google free and clear of blame here, and neither have its own employees. It was a cowardly decision to pay off Rubin, and one that received too little coverage here and throughout the tech world.)
I encourage you to read the Times’ full story if you have not, rather than my paraphrase here. The Times’ story relies on multiple sources, including several Google executives, and people with direct involvement in handling the claims made against Rubin. It is not light on details.
Rubin’s response to these claims came in the form of two tweets, shortly after the story was published.
In those tweets, Rubin flatly denied that he coerced his former coworker into sexual relations, implied $90 million was an exaggeration of his compensation, and claimed this controversy was all the result of a smear campaign by his now-ex-wife attempting to paint him in a poor light during divorce and child custody proceedings. Not to mention nosy Googlers who were representing the contents of his personnel file. Rubin has issued no further public comment on the Times’ story, and the Times has stood firmly behind its reporting, now a year later.
What has also not changed in that time is Andy Rubin’s apparent position as the beacon and luminary guiding his startup, Essential. Andy Rubin personally and, until today, exclusively teased the company’s next phone on his Twitter account. They were his first and only tweets since those embedded above. They certainly make for a stark contrast on the timeline.
As the Editor-in-Chief of this publication, a publication that covers Essential, I’m left with several very difficult things to reconcile: A detailed, scathing report from a well-respected, world-class source of investigative reporting implicating a major figure in our industry, the terse and public denial of that report by the figure implicated, and that figure’s decision to remain the public face and leadership of a company launching products my publication has and continues to cover.
As I stated on Twitter, if Essential were just another huge, faceless tech corporation, this would be a more complicated situation. If Rubin was just one executive with limited, peripheral power over the larger decisions made by a business — someone involved incidentally, and not essentially — this would be different. But Andy Rubin is Essential. Essential is Andy Rubin. His company would not meaningfully exist, receive funding from investors, or attention in the media if it did not personally ride on the back of his reputation as a legend in mobile technology. Essential would not have received $300 million in funding to build a phone Sprint sold a whole 5,000 copies of in its first month (let alone the chance to fail so miserably) if that phone was not the brainchild of Andy Rubin, creator of Android. As it exists, Essential’s identity is inseparable from that of its founder.
And at what point do we have to start considering that, when that $300 million is spent, Andy Rubin could begin investing some of the money Google paid him to go away into his own business? I’m not saying he has, and I’m not saying I’m certain he will, but it seems foolish not to acknowledge the possibility. And, as a publication, would I want us to be the beneficiaries of that money through Essential’s press events, review programs, and briefings? When I consider the question in this light, my response immediately, emphatically, is no.
As a publication, Android Police is taking no official stance on whether the allegations against Andy Rubin are true. That is not for us, as a publication, to decide. But as the person in charge of deciding how we as a publication cover Essential, and our relationship with the company, I cannot in good conscience continue to accept access from them. I also cannot deny that the products they create are newsworthy, and that it would be a disservice to our readers to abstain from covering them entirely. And, for what it is worth to those of you who care, we will continue to cover news regarding Essential’s products—albeit with a disclaimer going forward. I don’t know if we’ll review the GEM phone, we haven’t decided, and we’ll likely have a lot to discuss. I have heard opinions on both sides, and both make good points.
I have no illusions about our status with Essential after this: my public statement that we would no longer accept access from Essential owing to allegations against Rubin basically guaranteed we would lose that access anyway. My tweets received enough public attention that Rubin himself has blocked me on the platform. So, mission accomplished, I guess. I also know we are not very important in the grand scheme of things, and I don’t expect we’ll change anything about the way Essential operates. Android Police isn’t going to fix anything about toxicity in the workplace or the double standards we afford powerful people. But I felt it was necessary to take a stand, and this is it.
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