A war is being waged among tech giants over how to regulate themselves. Facebook, Google and Twitter are all expected to release plans for regulating their algorithms this year, following the footsteps of Apple who revealed they would be taking steps in early 2019.
The “whistleblower movie” is a movie about the life of Edward Snowden, who has been one of the most famous whistleblowers in recent history. The film has received mixed reviews from critics and audiences alike.
Following the reveal earlier this month of the name of the Facebook Inc. whistleblower, more workers of technology firms are coming out with concerns and information about their workplaces, according to lawyers who specialize in whistleblowing problems.
“We didn’t see a lot in Silicon Valley, and then all of a sudden we did,” said Mary Inman, a lawyer at Constantine Cannon LLP in San Francisco and London who represents whistleblowers. “Being a whistleblower has merely become more of an acceptable option; there are now role models.”
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Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen has disclosed that she was the one who collected the records that formed the foundation of The Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Files article on business troubles. She has subsequently made her charges public and testified in front of Congress.
“You do see that when someone highly prominent comes out, you are going to see additional individuals in the tech business perhaps contemplating coming forward with what they are witnessing in their own company,” said Jane Norberg, former head of the SEC’s whistleblower office.
Companies and authorities are increasingly relying on whistleblowers to discover and probe suspected misconduct, such as bribery and financial fraud. Before Ms. Haugen, former Google researcher Jack Poulson and Theranos Inc. whistleblower Tyler Shultz came out publicly in recent years about procedures inside both tech organizations.
When complaints are made public, it might encourage others in comparable industries or at the same business to come forward, according to Ms. Norberg, who worked for the SEC for nine years. She is currently a partner at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP, where she advises businesses on claims of whistleblowing.
This has occurred in other sectors as well. When a whistleblower reported that Pfizer Inc.’s Warner-Lambert was promoting one of its prescription drugs for treatments not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, a $430 million settlement was reached in 2004, it prompted more employees in the pharmaceutical industry to come forward with information, according to Erika Kelton, a partner at law firm Phillips & Cohen LLP.
The Tech Worker Handbook was established by Ifeoma Ozoma.
Adria Malcolm is shown here.
The Congressional testimony of the Facebook whistleblower also coincided with the launch of a website called The Tech Worker Handbook. The website, which was founded by former Pinterest Inc. employee Ifeoma Ozoma and backed by “philanthropic investment company” Omidyar Network, is meant to act as a resource for employees at startups and digital businesses who wish to speak out. The site’s content sources include the Signals Network, a non-profit that supports whistleblowers, and Lioness, a narrative platform.
Ms. Ozoma, who formerly worked on Pinterest’s public-policy team and is now the head of policy consulting company Earthseed, said the timing was fortuitous since the handbook’s release had been planned for more than a year. She said she received weekly calls from tech employees seeking assistance after she went public in 2020, accusing Pinterest of underpaying her and retaliating against her after she made the claim.
“It’s a huge choice to go up against a multibillion or trillion-dollar corporation,” Ms. Ozoma said. “You need the facts before you make that choice for yourself and your family,” says the author.
In an email, Charlotte Fuller, Pinterest’s director of corporate communications, said, “We’ve been working to ensure our culture, rules, and practices are consistent with our mission to be a diverse, fair, and inclusive workplace for all workers.” She went on to say that in the last year, the company has taken a number of steps, including increasing the number of women in leadership positions, providing pay transparency to employees, and supporting the Silenced No More Act, a California bill co-sponsored by Ms. Ozoma that strengthens protections for workers who speak out about workplace discrimination and racism.
Workers in the IT business, according to Ms. Ozoma, face the same type of danger and possible industry blacklisting, which may deter individuals from speaking out. When she left Pinterest, she signed a non-disclosure agreement and said that the firm inspected her Slack chats.
“I believe that employees in every field are vulnerable to [being blacklisted], but I believe that one of the reasons why individuals are hesitant to become whistleblowers is because it is so effective in the internet industry,” she added.
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Theranos whistleblower Mr. Shultz said that the startup’s legal firm threatened to sue him after he expressed concerns and left the business. Erika Cheung, a former Theranos employee, said she got a threatening letter from the company’s attorneys sent by a guy she said was following her after she talked to a WSJ reporter about her time there months after she left.
Ms. Ozoma thinks that the manual will serve as a living record that will benefit everybody in the future, not only those in the technology business.
“Most individuals can’t afford to take that chance and wind up in years of legal battles with a corporation,” she added. “An ecosystem of support and resources in this arena is required to see the flood of whistleblowing that I believe we would all benefit from, since these people are revealing knowledge that affects us all.”
Mengqi Sun can be reached at [email protected]
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