with Tonya Riley
Recent protests against racism and police brutality are pressuring the tech industry to also look at its own record on diversity.
At this critical moment, I reached out to several black tech leaders and asked them what books they would recommend to The Technology 202 newsletter readers. Their picks range from fiction from legendary black authors to recent business books that address diversity issues.
Here’s The Technology 202 summer reading list, compiled from those recommendations:
Luke Thompson, investor at Maschmeyer Group Ventures: “It is full of complicated love that makes the reader confront what it means to be human. Like all of her work, it is importantly Black and never overtly “political.” Morrison, with subtlety, ties the slave experience with what it means to be a modern Black American. Once you do, if you can, exist within the commonplace terror of the slave experience, you will delight in the endless familial love that exists in the traditional, white, nuclear-American family, but also the familial love between Black Americans that exists today. Lastly, her writing succeeds in a vacuum. The language, the plot, and the sensation are perfectly brutal and beautiful.”
Black Software: The Internet & Racial Justice
Brandi Collins-Dexter, senior campaign director at Color Of Change: “Dr. McIlwain tracks in rich detail the 50-year history of the Black tech pioneers, innovators, and organizers at the vanguard of building and defining the Internet, the ways they were cut from history, and how computing technology and Silicon Valley was built to undermine Black agency.”
Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom For A Better Life
Sarah Kunst, managing director of Cleo Capital: “Wade is an experienced political activist and savvy businesswoman, but her profession is poetry. Reading this book of life and career advice in the form of poems and essays feels a bit like if ‘Chicken Soup For the Soul’ was written by the Harvard Business Review. We all know how to do our jobs, this is a great reminder of why we do our jobs and in these uncertain times it feels more prescient than ever.”
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
Julia Collins, co-founder of Zume Pizza: “This meticulously researched history of the United States presents a version of our history that is seldom if ever presented. The truth of our history as a country dedicated to the destruction of an entire population in the name of land acquisition, gives a very good framework for understanding the vast inequality and lack of justice that we currently face. Perhaps in learning the truth of how our country came to be, we can begin to understand how to fulfill the promise of who we want to become.”
It’s About Damn Time
Hamilton, founder of Backstage Capital: “When I wrote ‘It’s About Damn Time’ a year ago, I could have never imagined it would be released in the middle of a global pandemic or a national revolution. However, the book’s themes about overcoming your circumstances and thriving in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds couldn’t ring more relevant or relatable as it does today. I think of it as a self-help business book about harnessing the power of being underestimated.”
Parable of the Sower
Ifeoma Ozoma, former Pinterest public policy and social impact manager: “’All that you touch/You change.’ I’ve thought a lot about this verse over the last week, year, and decade. In this time of pandemic and an ongoing reckoning with the varied harms of racism, we all would do well to be even more mindful of the ways we impact those around us. With incredible prescience, Octavia E. Butler laid out a world that looks frighteningly like our current one, and yet provides a hopeful path forward for us as individuals.”
Don’t seek to only understand Black people’s plight why oppression. Learn about our ingenuity, genius, innovation, and brilliance as well.
Nuance your reading material. We’ve always been a people of triumph despite centuries of cruelty. It never stoped us from creating. pic.twitter.com/8PjYZ9Q3yu
— Sherrell Dorsey (@Sherrell_Dorsey) June 19, 2020
Race After Technology
Sherrell Dorsey, founder of the Plug: “As we become a more ingrained socio-technical society, understanding the harsh implications of not checking how bias shows up in the tools we ultimately use in our everyday lives will be to our detriment. ‘Race After Technology’ provides a framework in which we can collaboratively think about technology for justice and visibility for those who are traditionally left out of its design.”
Brian Dixon, partner at Kapor Capital: “Ellen’s book focuses on how to build culture in tech with an intersectional lens on gender and race. This book is a must-read for anyone who is already working in tech or aspiring to work in tech, either as employees, founders, and/or investors.”
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
Erica Baker, director of engineering at GitHub, recommends this book for readers “beginning to understand more deeply what happened to Black people in America post-slavery. A good starting point to branch into other research.”
She also recommends “White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son” and “James Baldwin: Collected Essays.”
Our top tabs
Black employee groups are under pressure to fix their companies’ race problems for free.
“Employee resource groups” for black, Latino, LGBTQ and female workers have been exploited by employers in lieu of company-led diversity initiatives, my colleague Nitasha Tiku reports based on interviews with 17 current and former leaders of ERGS.
“The dependence on ERGs has stifled the industry because it gives a false sense of progress,” said Dominique Hollins, a veteran of Google and eBay. “We joined the ERG because we needed help, but we became the help.”
Twitter, Slack, Facebook , GitHub and Eventbrite are just some of the companies where employees have organized these groups. But leaders of the groups say that their duties went well beyond informal camaraderie to being asked to serve their companies as brand ambassadors, diversity strategists, recruiters and to work on company policy with few resources. Some expressed concerns their involvement had held back their careers.
Now there’s a spotlight on the treatment of these groups
“If you, an employer have deferred the work of supporting the black community to the black employees without recognizing them beyond empty platitudes, or pointed to your black employees to absolve yourselves, maybe reassess that?” Raki Wane, who previously led Twitter’s employee resource group, Blackbirds, wrote on Twitter.
TikTok is scaling up its presence in Washington with new hires.
Several new hires will help build out the social media company’s “Transparency Center” in Washington, which the company launched to provide policymakers a closer look at its content moderation and user privacy decisions. The company is facing growing scrutiny from lawmakers over its ties to its owner, China-based ByteDance.
- Lisa Hayes will join Monday as the company’s director of technology policy and senior counsel. She previously served as the former interim co-chief executive and general counsel of the Center for Democracy & Technology and board member for CDT Europe.
- Michael Bloom, a former staffer of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), will serve as the company’s director of federal affairs.
- Kim Lipsky and Mac Abrams, former Senate staffers, will also join the federal policy team.
“TikTok is going to be the industry leader in transparency,” Hayes said in a statement to The Technology 202. “They’re committed to ensuring that user data is treated with dignity and giving policymakers unprecedented insight into how they moderate content. I’m thrilled to join the company at this pivotal time and to help lawmakers and experts take a look under the hood of TikTok, where so many American families are finding joy in these difficult times.”
A growing number of Republican politicians are flocking to a Twitter alternative in a rebuke of Big Tech.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas uploaded a video yesterday announcing he was joining the Parler app in an effort to “end the Silicon Valley censorship.” Tech companies have repeatedly denied they make content decisions based on political ideology, and there is no credible research to support the GOP accusations of censorship.
I’m proud to join @parler_app — a platform gets what free speech is all about — and I’m excited to be a part of it. Let’s speak. Let’s speak freely. And let’s end the Silicon Valley censorship. Follow me there @tedcruz! pic.twitter.com/pzUFvhipBZ
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) June 25, 2020
Parler, which was founded in Nevada in 2018, boasts freedom from the “ideological suppression and privacy abuse” of major platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Republicans have been promoting it as an alternative to Twitter since the company issued a series of labels on President Trump’s tweets for violations, including manipulated media and threatening harm to a group.
The Trump campaign has also discussed moving to Parler or even building its own app as Twitter, Snap and Facebook continue to rebuke the campaign, the Wall Street Journal reports. Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale already use the platform, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Rick Crawford (Ark.), Lee Zeldin (N.Y.), Jodey Arrington (Tex.) and Andy Biggs (Ariz.) also joined this week. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has been a member since last summer.
It’s about time y’all joined me on @parler_app . What’s taking the rest of you so long?!
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) June 24, 2020
It’s unlikely Republicans will decamp from Twitter entirely and even less probably they’ll stop using Facebook, which has become one of the biggest political advertising platforms. Parler claims to have more than 1 million users, but that’s not much compared to the more than 200 million Facebook boasts in the United States alone. A representative for Cruz told Politico he would user Parler in addition to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Parler even bans some of the same practices as Twitter. David Kaye, U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression:
don’t be fooled by @tedcruz. even @parler_app has rules. check out their Community Guidelines (sound familiar?), which govern eg:
☑️ foreign terrorist content (but domestic Nazis/White Supremacists ok?)
☑️ ‘fighting words’
☑️ indecency/obscenity https://t.co/pZYB3zklze
— David Kaye (@davidakaye) June 25, 2020
There could be some disappointments in store. Sasha Moss, senior director at Insight Public Affairs:
— Sasha Moss (@smossdc) June 25, 2020
Rant and rave
Amazon released plans for a sign that would rename Seattle’s New Arena as “Climate Pledge Arena.” My colleague Tony Romm on the purchase:
The New York Times’s Kate Conger is still processing:
I cannot believe this is a real thing and nothing any of yall say will convince me https://t.co/aQFuMHks38
— kate conger (@kateconger) June 25, 2020
CBC’s Michelle Ghoussoub:
this is going to look so perfectly dystopian when it’s underwater and/or melting https://t.co/vGRKl5P6It
— Michelle Ghoussoub (@MichelleGhsoub) June 25, 2020
Democrats introduced legislation banning federal government use of facial recognition.
The bicameral legislation responds to growing concerns over law enforcement’s use of biometrics and warnings that flawed algorithms could contribute to discriminatory policing.
The bill would also prohibit the federal government from using voice recognition. It would require state and local entities to ban use of the technology if they want to receive federal funding. Any information collected violating the measure would be prohibited from use in federal judicial proceedings.
“Facial recognition technology is fundamentally flawed, systemically biased, and has no place in our society,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), who introduced the legislation alongside Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) in the House. “Black and brown people are already over-surveilled and over-policed, and it’s critical that we prevent government agencies from using this faulty technology to surveil communities of color even further.”
Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduced the legislation in the Senate.
More than a dozen groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation are backing the bill, called the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act.
Inside the industry
Verizon joins as the largest company partaking in an ongoing advertising boycott of Facebook and Instagram.
“We’re pausing our advertising until Facebook can create an acceptable solution that makes us comfortable and is consistent with what we’ve done with YouTube and other partners.” Verizon’s chief media officer John Nitti told CNBC in a statement. Verizon spent nearly $2 million on Facebook and Instagram ads in the past month alone, CNBC reports.
So far 92 companies have joined the temporary boycott organized by the NAACP and other civil rights groups in response to Facebook’s ongoing failures to moderate hate speech and misinformation. Activists are encouraging more to join.
“Facebook’s leadership can withstand regulatory, legal, and media scrutiny because of the billions of dollars the company receives in advertising,” Color of Change president Rashad Robinson said in a statement. “Major corporations that have publicly shared their sympathies for the struggles Black Americans face can and should go one step further by taking our pledge to halt the funding of racism and hate.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is slamming a mobile data company for spying on protesters.
Mobilewalla publicized its surveillance in a report about protester demographics in four cities that analyzed more than 16,000 protesters’ mobile phones, BuzzFeed News reports. It’s unclear how accurate the analysis is, but advocacy groups say the practice could undermine freedom of assembly for protesters who weren’t aware they were being tracked.
“This report shows that an enormous number of Americans – probably without even knowing it – are handing over their full location history to shady location data brokers with zero restrictions on what companies can do with it,” Warren said of the report.
Warren recently joined with the House Oversight Committee to launch an investigation into another major data broker, Venntel, that works with government agencies.
Tech companies are slamming a bill that would require them to help law enforcement access their users’ encrypted data.
The “Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act,” introduced this week by Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and other Republicans would threaten the sensitive data of billions of tech users, the Reform Government Surveillance Coalition argues.The group’s members include major tech companies such as Apple, Facebook and Google.
“The global pandemic has forced everyone to rely on the Internet in critical ways, making digital security more important than ever before for our economy and national security,” the group writes.
The Internet Society also blasted the bill, saying its passage would be “utterly devastating” for personal security.
“Preventing crime is important, but we can’t achieve that goal by making everyone more at-risk to the criminal activity we’re trying to address,” the group said in a statement. It boasts more than 100 tech companies as members including Amazon and the Swedish telecom Ericsson. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post.)
Nicol Turner Lee has been named the new director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution, according to a news release.
- Carnegie’s Partnership for Countering Influence Operations and Twitter will host an event on influence operations on Twitter on July 9 at 1 p.m.
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— Dave Jorgenson (@davejorgenson) June 25, 2020