Tech giants know this scenario all too well; employee-activists accuse the company of attempting to impose harsh rules in the workplace, and the same employees get booted out.
However, things are quickly taking a surprising shift, as this time, the law began taking notice.
Google recently came to an agreement with a recently let-go employee due to his workplace activism, according to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Laurence Berland, who was kicked out in 2019, is known for being “a vocal critic of Google’s work with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and was terminated amid internal organizing,” as cited by The Verge.
Bloomberg reported that the settlement was approved in July by the NLRB, yet the terms and conditions remain unclear.
The NLRB has claimed that Google violated labor law by showing Berland and four other employees the door back in 2019 over conducting campaigns against the tech giant, citing strict work environments.
One employee, Kathryn Spiers, received a termination letter for organizing an “internal pop-up message” for the purpose of reminding workers of their labor rights. In response, the search giant said that she didn’t have the proper approval for her actions, according to Spiers.
Other employees, including Berland, Sophie Waldman, Rebecca Rivers, and Paul Duke, noted that they were let go due to their participation in protected labor organizing. Yet, Google is denying their claims as well, justifying the termination by noting that they were fired for going against the firm’s data security policies.
Apple, on the other hand, is facing a similar set of challenges.
Apple employees are allegedly “pushing the company to add language that makes clearer exception for cases of workplace harassment and discrimination. Apple has refused. Last week, they filed a shareholder resolution to pressure Apple to make the change,” according to The Verge.
Ifeoma Ozoma, who’s in charge of the employee’s efforts, told The Verge that “we approached Apple in good faith and encouraged them to take a leadership role here.”
“Their response was to use the same employee handbook that they’ve reportedly been using to silence workers as an excuse to say no. We responded that this wasn’t acceptable, and curiously haven’t heard back,” Ozoma added.
Ozoma is one of the members in charge of the Silenced No More Act, a legislation based in California that focuses on the protection of employees who are vocal regarding workplace discrimination, even if they’ve signed a non-disclosure agreement.
On August 30th, the bill “passed the California state legislature and advanced to Governor Newsom’s desk,” according to The Verge.
As the Silenced No More Act is edging towards becoming part of the law, Ozoma has been set on hounding tech giants to actively impose certain rights in their employment contracts: “Nothing in this agreement prevents you from discussing or disclosing information about unlawful acts in the workplace, such as harassment or discrimination or any other conduct that you have reason to believe is unlawful.”
On Friday, Nia Impact Capital, an international organization that deals with social justice for workers, issued a shareholder resolution stating that employment contracts that contain vague statements and non-disclosure deals are unfair in every aspect possible.
“We filed this shareholder resolution at Apple because a company’s use of concealment clauses is both a governance and a diversity concern,” Kristin Hull, CEO of Nia Impact told The Verge.
“Concealment clauses block investors from understanding true workplace conditions and may undermine diversity, equity and inclusion programs. The Board, as the representatives of the investor, should be concerned about the role concealment clauses play in enabling harmful corporate cultures to continue, hidden from stakeholders.”
If Apple fails to meet employee’s expectations, the resolution has the potential to “go before a vote at the next shareholder meeting,” as written by The Verge.
New FTC memo will transform the way big tech operates
Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Lina Khan recently publicized her policy priorities and vision in a memo that was sent out to staff members on Wednesday.
Supervised by five commissioners who vote on enforcement actions and policy statements, Khan set in stone the main priorities of the agency in the recent FTC memo: fixing power imbalances, reducing harm on the consumers, and targeting “rampant consolidation.”
Khan laid out the main focus of the agency, as well as how it can adjust its strategic approach to overcome issues born by “next-generation technologies, innovations, and nascent industries across sectors.”
FTC’s new list of priorities indicates that tech giants, even though none of them were named, will be under extreme scrutiny going forward.
The five principles outlined in the FTC memo are the following:
- Conduct a “holistic approach to identifying harms.” Khan noted that the agency should acknowledge that employees, private corporations, as well as consumers, can be equally harmed by antitrust and consumer protection violations. The famous antitrust lawsuits have previously emphasized strictly on consumer harm, as it was mainly concerned with how to price a product to ensure fairness. However, Khan argued in her memo that a more productive approach could be utilized to better assess harm by tech giants, which often offer free of charge platforms in exchange to high levels of engagement.
- Keep an eye on “targeting root causes rather than looking at one-off effects.” Khan explained that the FTC workers should examine how business models or conflicts of interest go against the law.
- Incorporate more “analytical tools and skillsets” for an overall assessment of business methods.
- Enjoy “forward-looking” and work on stepping up quickly when harm is done, this includes focusing on “next-generation technologies, innovations, and nascent industries across sectors.”
- Democratize the FTC through ensuring it’s “in tune with the real problems that Americans are facing in their daily lives.”
“Research documents how gatekeepers and dominant middlemen across the economy have been able to use their critical market position to hike fees, dictate terms, and protect and extend their market power,” Khan wrote in the memo, adding that “deeply asymmetric relationships between the controlling firm and dependent entities can be ripe for abuse.”
The FTC chairwoman also included non-compete agreements in her memo, which she says have the ability to restrict workers from which jobs they can take on, as well as impose restrictions on consumer’s right-to-repair. Apple has been criticized in the past for the limit it imposed regarding the number of times users can repair Apple devices they purchased.
Earlier this year, the FTC vocalized its intentions to fighting these restrictions.
“Consumers, workers, franchisees, and other market participants are at a significant disadvantage when they are unable to negotiate freely over terms and conditions,” Khan wrote in the memo.
Facebook’s Oversight Board demands answers on celebrity rules
Facebook’s oversight board said on Tuesday that it will set in motion an urgent examination process to inspect whether the social networking platform is mitigating posts for famous personages, leading to a direct content rules breach, according to Wall Street inquiry.
Facebook’s oversight board is an independent group assigned by the platform to observe its moderation policies concerning politicians, athletes, celebrities, and other high-profile users.
The board revealed that it has already initiated an examination plan that demands Facebook executives to submit any data related to the Cross-Check Program, or popularly referred to as” XCheck.” It demanded proof of clarity to determine whether these allegations are true, and from there, it would work accordingly based on the findings.
“In light of recent developments, we are looking into the degree to which Facebook has been fully forthcoming in its responses in relation to cross-check, including the practice of whitelisting,” the board wrote in a statement.
Whitelisting is a cybersecurity strategy where users only act on their personal computers following exclusive administrator permission.
Initially, the XCheck program was initiated to take measures against all kinds of distinguished and famed accounts, which later exponentially grew to involve millions of accounts.
Presumably, Facebook’s program was established to prohibit “PR fires,” or any type of unwanted press caused by removing photos, posts, and other types of content on the platform. In this case, these high-profile users are immune to any outcome disclosed by XCheck, or any moderating process for that matter. It aims to deliver additional premium control over the platform’s posts.
Thus, by being excluded from the program’s functionality, millions of celebrities are safeguarded from any future regulation on their profile, meaning Facebook is perpetually and intentionally misleading its oversight board on its rules.
“Mark Zuckerberg has publicly said Facebook allows its more than three billion users to speak on equal footing with the elites of politics, culture, and journalism, and that its standards of behavior apply to everyone, no matter their status or frame. In private, the company has built a system that has exempted high-profile users from some or all of its rules,” according to the Wall Street Journal’s report.
At the moment, Facebook’s oversight board will monitor the social networking’s conduct by investigating its cross-check program and will eventually release the findings to the public.
The board’s decision will entirely be based on the tech giant’s transparency regarding its freedom of speech and human rights policies, be it supportive or opposing to its program’s own guidelines.
While Facebook has publicly vowed to follow the board’s demands on its users’ regulations, it also has the right not to submit itself to extensive recommendations as it is not compelled legally to abide by its rules.
U.S. Democrats push for tough data privacy regulations
The U.S. Congress surely returned to work with full force after a summer recess, asa group of Senate Democrats are now pushing the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to construct new regulations around data privacy protection.
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal led the initiative after garnering eight signatures from his colleagues on a letter that was forwarded to agency Chair Lina Khan on Monday.
The letter’s details revolve around new rules that should be implemented to strengthen cybersecurity, which in return will improve civil rights and give back the consumer what’s rightfully theirs; their privacy.
The letter pointed the finger at Big Tech for having “unchecked access to private personal information” that they use to “create in-depth profiles about nearly all Americans and to protect their market position against competition from startups.”
The senators explained in the letter that previous attempts to hold big tech firms guilty for violating existing data privacy rules were not enough.
“We believe that a national standard for data privacy and security is urgently needed to protect consumers, reinforce civil rights, and safeguard our nation’s cybersecurity,” the senators wrote.
The news comes after U.S. President Joe Biden nominated vocal critic of privacy and facial recognition, Alvaro Bedoya, to acquire the job of the third Democratic FTC commissioner. Bedoya’s past experiences at Georgetown Law is highlighted in his research that delves into the aftermath of technologies like facial recognition on minority groups.
The professor at Georgetown Law’s Center for Privacy and Technology also created a number of surveys aimed at investigating tech’s capability for racial bias. In the past, Bedoya has also served as chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law under Chairman Senator. A confirmation hearing for Bedoya is yet to be scheduled. However, if it goes according to plan, Bedoya will be able to support the FTC’s mission in coming up with regulations when it comes to data privacy.
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