Big Tech continues to clamp down on pushback within its own workforce

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Google violated US labor laws by spying on and subsequently firing employees who were organizing labor protests, according to a complaint filed Wednesday by the National Labor Relations Board. The Verge reports that the complaint references two Google employees who were fired in 2019 for raising objections to Google's contracting with IRI Consultants, a consulting firm known for its union-busting efforts. This week Google also fired high-profile AI ethics researcher Timnit Gebru following contentious communications over the company’s request that she retract a publication she had authored, per OneZero. Gebru's work includes seminal research demonstrating the disproportionate error rates in facial recognition technology’s ability to identify images of Black and brown people due to a lack of representation in training data.

Big Tech has an internal criticism problem. The techlash is coming from inside the organization, and employees concerned with their impact in the world are building what Logic Magazine calls a tech worker movement. For example, the #NoTechForICE movement rallied workers across Amazon, Microsoft, and Salesforce to oppose government contracts using their facial recognition technologies for immigrations and customs policing. In response tech firms are stifling activism, organizing, and dissent among their employees. Amazon has hired Pinkerton operatives to track warehouse worker organizing efforts. Facebook employees communicate via burner phones for fear of internal surveillance of their dissent. Facebook purportedly fired an employee who gathered evidence suggesting the platform was protecting right-wing pages. Logic Magazine's forthcoming Logic School is offering a series of courses to offer strategies and tools to the growing activism within tech engineering communities.

If Big Tech firms want to solve some of their biggest problems, they need to find ways to listen to internal feedback that reflects shifting values of their employees and society at large. Inspired by the need for a mouthpiece for workplace concerns within Silicon Valley, former TechCrunch journalist Paul Carr's new publication Tech Worker intends to hold Big Tech management practices to account by keeping tech CEOs "awake at night." Contributors include Sarah Lacy, a journalist personally targeted for her critical coverage of Uber, and Claire Stapleton, an early Google employee who left after retaliation claims for her role in organizing the 2018 global walkouts over the company’s handling of harassment cases.