February 22, 2005

Did Former Google Blogger Break SEC Rules?

More on Mark Jen, the law and happiness—in response to your comments.

David Goldenberg

Gelf values its readers' feedback. If you have a question about an article, contact the magazine, and Gelf will see what it can do to clear things up. Either email or post a comment below an article, and Gelf will get on the case.

A number of readers weighed in on the article about Mark Jen, the fired Google blogger. Several important questions were raised that deserved follow-up.

Most importantly, readers Ted and Scott brought up the point that perhaps Jen’s blog entries violated SEC regulations about selective disclosure of material information to outside parties (Regulation FD). The SEC handles such allegations on a case-by-case basis, and there’s no evidence that they have looked into this one. Gelf spoke to a corporate lawyer—a partner at a large San Francisco firm who wished to remain anonymous—who reviewed the blog posting and wouldn't be surprised if the SEC doesn't investigate it. “He probably broke company policy more than he broke the law,” the lawyer said. “I'd guess he was fired more for reporting on an internal event than what he actually said.”

The lawyer also pointed out that there is little precedent for prosecuting someone for blogging material, non-public information. He noted that a blog posting is akin to an unofficial company announcement, in that the information is instantly available to everyone. “You’ve got an unusual situation,” the lawyer said.

The lawyer noted that most of the things Jen had to say were vague and consistent with information currently on the market. The lawyer pointed out that if Jen had released material information, the stock should have risen right away, and no one would have been left out.

Google has had very little to say about the matter. Google spokesman Steve Langdon told Gelf that “Google does have internal guidelines for blogs,” but would not say whether this was implemented as a result of Jen’s termination or what the specifics of those guidelines are.

A few readers wondered whether Jen was happy working at Google. Cap’n Ken wondered why Jen “seemed more interested in writing about Google than working for Google” while David Scott Lewis noted that the tone of Jen’s posts had changed after he left his Microsoft job to work at Google. Jen claims he truly did enjoy his time at Google. Reached for a follow-up email interview, Jen told Gelf that, at most, he spent one hour a day on his blog. “Compared to the 12+ hours a day I was spending at work,” he wrote, “I'm pretty sure I had my priorities straight.” Jen acknowledged that the tone of his posts had changed after he switched companies. “I felt it was appropriate since at the time I thought the philosophy and atmosphere at Google would encourage it,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, I was wrong and I learnt my lesson from it.”

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