Although I agree with the general principle,
We will advocate within our organizations: to minimize the collection and retention of data that would facilitate ethnic or religious targeting.
Minimize leaves open a large scope. Minimize as in avoid any such data at all? Minimize as in, minimize given the constraint of profit maximization?
Also, the core business of a lot of tech companies would facilitate such profiling when the data falls in the wrong hands, since their goals is to gather as much information about you as possible in order to have the most accurate ad targeting.
I see quite some Google/Facebook engineers among people who signed, but I could not sign this with a clear conscience if I worked for these companies. We would be in real trouble if some fascist leader gets access to the complete search histories, site visit histories through Google ads, and perhaps e-mail boxes of hundreds of million people.
Minimize as in, minimize given the constraint of profit maximization?
Minimize given the constraints of what the government allows them to do, or not do. Note that “advocacy” is weak too.
Repost from response to same thing on Hacker News discussing revolt by employees and my claim most end with lots of talkers backing out at moment of truth:
“So, this is a pledge to not put together data that can be used for (basically) targeting minorities, destroying such data, the backups, etc. Also boycotting work for them and legal resistance. It follows they must be refusing to work at such places (eg Facebook, Google), pushing for changes at them if they do work there before quiting if there’s No’s, not using their products/services, preventing it in other companies via business model, and so on. They would expect change in tech company practices to result due to this pledge/revolt.
We’ll be able to judge their current commitment based on their employment and if they boycott all such surveillance services with forms of PII that can be used for targeting. The latter due to Vote With Wallet concept of not financially supporting evil companies. We’ll see if it fits my observed pattern (all talk no walk) by looking for whether a huge percentage of developers are committed to this over maybe next year or so. Also what changes happen in these companies' data collection and retention practices due to pressure from the pledge/revolt causing enough high-talent turnover. My pattern, if they fall victim to it, says they’ll remain a tiny percentage of tech employees, probably use surveillance-powered goods, and likes of Google or Facebook continue collecting a trove of data that benefits such targeting since pressure didnt work.
I hope it does work, though, as I support the goals of the pledge.“ Added: I’m just not optimistic given how Silicon Valley has handled observations of social issues and calls for reform so far. I expect it to fail and many signatories to cave if they’re not already.
Note: One Lobster says some of these people work for Facebook and Google. If they still do, we may have already spotted some fakes as their business model and data set are ideal for targeting specific groups for suppression or elimination. Signatories can’t work for those companies since the problem is baked into their business model with little hope of them giving up tens of billions to change that. You’d have to convince the owners and executives directly to force it top-down.
I don’t get why this is here. A pledge that says you won’t contribute to tracking race, ethnicity, etc? How is this even feasible? These are already tracked based on what you like and visit. The only way to prevent abuse of tracked info is to get rid of all tracked info everywhere. It will never happen because tracking this stuff is what increases revenue (or in some cases is the entire revenue).
I get the sentiment, but do you really need to put your name to some random pledge that basically says “I’m not interested in harassing people or enabling harassment”? This is no different than hashtag activism to me.
The people who signed the pledge are aware that this data is already being collected.
A list of 1500 people making a public pledge to quit their jobs is not hashtag activism, people are putting money and jobs on the line.
I suppose I’ll agree with you once I see public resignations. Until then, talk is cheap.
The idea of resigning because a company does something you don’t like isn’t new, or uncommon, but OK.
Do top talent resign at Google, Facebook, Apple, etc a lot in protest to their effects on democracy? Or even resign a lot for political reasons? I dont recall reading virtually anything on the former. I’m guessing latter is uncommon to rare go point the big companies dont worry about it.
Interested in counterexamples if you have them.
Sure, here’s one: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2016/10/report-fbi-andor-nsa-ordered-yahoo-to-build-secret-e-mail-search-tool/
Lavabit would be another, also when the big tech cos fought the government on NSL’s it’s not clear whether that was due to the threat of resignation.
That’s what Im saying. Plus maybe demonstrations in front of the companies' headquarters bringing attention to it. Maybe also sites showing which exciting employers arent doing such profiles and which arent. They’d still have shift quite a bit of talented end of an already large pipeline of labor.
How is mass organized worker action against racial tracking “hashtag activism”?
I fat fingered my initial answer, sorry, which is why this reply doesn’t make much sense
There are already twelve other people from my company on the list. This gives me the courage to sign on as well; I know that there are people at my level and higher who have my back if something like this came up and I wanted to speak out against it, or refuse to work on it. It has power.
Lede: Signatories self-report seditious intent, fatally wounding personal legal defense.
This comment was not intended as trolling. The list is a list of targets, self-identifying such. The immediate use of such a list is (ironically?) a shopping spree for actual trolls.
For the record, I agree with you and this is a factor I’m considering as part of whether to sign, though there are other considerations I find more important.
I mean, for what it’s worth, you work at the GOOG, right? Your employer is most definitely part of the problem.
That said, you can–should you feel the need–resign at any time privately without having signed this and in doing so accomplish about as much you would have having signed it, and at less personal risk.
The only people working at Google that could honestly sign this would be subversives with good shot at getting into senior roles that could change things. Anyone else is, in practice, just aiding and abetting a major offender whose leadership is tight with Washington. They have to resign the commitment to the pledge or resign from Google.
The life of the principled technologist in an unprincipled world is one of great sacrifice. Sad but true.
I signed it sincerely. I happen to work at Google at the moment. I don’t plan to resign for political reasons at the moment. I’m not a “subversive” at the moment, and I certainly don’t expect to ever “get into a senior role”. I see no contradiction in all this; I sleep extremely well at night. Not all “principled technologists” have to have precisely your principles. kthxbai
At least you’re brave enough admit you’re in that category. I’m talking about the principles on the pledge. Google collects data that can be used for targeting minorities or dissidents by Washington. It is used for targeting specific people or types by Washington per Snowden leaks & Patriot Act. Many people behind pledge worry it might expand to hit them under the Trump Administration. The pledge says you’ll refuse to support or build on such things. You will even minimize or destroy such data if you can. I’m taking these as your principles since you signed a document saying these are your principles and intention.
For job positions, there’s directly doing the bad things in the pledge. There’s also indirectly doing it by furthering the goals and revenues of a company that’s almost totally about doing the bad things in the pledge. Google’s riches come from an all-encompassing, uncaring form of collection that includes these bad things. There’s definitely a contradiction in saying you oppose the bad things they do, have no intention to change that, and continue to support their success as a company as an employee.
My principles are fine with you working at Google given they’re more pragmatic: do great things via whatever Google gives you, do what’s on the pledge (resign), have fun with your life, or anything in between that doesn’t harm people. It doesn’t bother me given there’s justifications for any of it. However, your principles as stated by the pledge narrow things down a bit as certain companies support the evil the pledge is against. Hence, my comments about the moral result of supporting such companies while claiming to support the pledge.
Note: Also why I’ve turned down jobs with lots of money since they’d result, directly or indirectly, in harm that I’m against on principle and as an activist. You know you’re an activist against evil, status quos when you start losing opportunities to practice what you preach against them. ;)
“Google collects data that can be used for targeting minorities or dissidents by Washington. It is used for targeting specific people or types by Washington per Snowden leaks & Patriot Act. Many people behind pledge worry it might expand to hit them under the Trump Administration.”
Just to help you triangulate, I disagree with these sentences.
I also find your second paragraph overblown and over-generalizing in the extreme. To pick at just one easy hole, many employees are net liabilities to their employers. Most of us have encountered at least some extreme examples of this. I may even be one of them, I can’t be certain since it’s not so extreme. You utterly ignore this possibility.
But I’m not interested in arguing further. At the level you’re making generalizations it’s impossible to take breath without worrying about harming someone else. You could just as well argue that everybody continuing to live in the US is complicit in a Trump Administration’s actions, for example. Might as well argue about angels and pinheads. I’m ok with the knowledge that my actions can causally result in harm to others. That doesn’t fall afoul of my “principles”, and that wasn’t what I signed my name to.
You strawmaned my post quite nicely. Let’s do some specifics from the pledge then:
“We will advocate within our organizations:
to minimize the collection and retention of data that would facilitate ethnic or religious targeting.
to scale back existing datasets with unnecessary racial, ethnic, and national origin data.
to responsibly destroy high-risk datasets and backups. "
The company’s business is profiling people & activities as detailed as possible to facilitate targeting by advertisers. They are maximizing rather than minimizing collection of data on their users. They aren’t scaling back datasets along lines of racial, ethnic, or national origin. They aren’t destroying anything high-risk. They have given data to the government per secret orders and such. So, the company is a potential, treasure trove of the kind of data this pledge wants gone with the government already using some of it to target Muslim terrorist suspects. They have no intention to change any of this except further expansion.
Google’s current operations and aims contradict the highly-specific things in the pledge that its signers claim they’ll do. So, I maintain supporting both is a contradicting position. Any pledge-supporting developers interested in search companies will find DuckDuckGo to be compatible with its aims. There are also private email companies, collaboration tools, browser setups, and so on. Alternatively, one might find it comfortable to sign a pledge about reducing or deleting collection of targeting data while supporting a company increasing collection of that same data. Definitely more fun & money involved.
As I said, I’m not interested in debating or persuading you. The tenor of your initial comment (that I originally responded to above) isn’t really amenable to beginning any sort of substantive conversation. Is it surprising all we get is mutual derping and strawmanning? This whole thread has left me disappointed in Lobsters. But perhaps there’s other people who don’t think as y'all do, who would appreciate knowing that alternative viewpoints exist here. That’s my sole motivation in entering this thread; politics is a tarpit that I usually come to Lobsters to escape.
 You’re basically claiming anybody who works at a large tech company has no business having an opinion on surveillance or privacy. You have no fucking idea of the wide variety of people who work at these places. Chefs, janitors, bus drivers, secretaries, lawyers, politicians, lobbyists, academics (refuse Google grants, people! snort), open source advocates. Tarring a large group of people with an overly broad brush is the essence of bigotry.
 I mean, I don’t usually sign pledges. But I don’t shit all over people who do either. Of course most of them are engaging in empty sentiment and value signalling. But maybe some of them get something more out of it. Maybe it changes the actions of a tiny minority. Who am I to mess with any potential magic with my cynicism? What value are you trying to add with your value judgements in this thread?
How can you sign on to the points in the pledge and at the same time neither be a subversive nor plan to resign from Google? Almost every point with meaning goes against both Google’s stated goals and its past behavior.
I guess I must be reading different words than you, or interpreting them differently, or I must just be acting in bad faith. Does that cover the possibilities? I’m not going to bother exploring them further. I’ve made my position clear, but I don’t come to Lobsters to talk politics or to persuade anyone. So feel free to get into the details about exactly how the words you are reading unfailingly imply the conclusion you arrived at. I couldn’t be arsed.
This is why many of us in 9/11 truth movement were careful about putting our name on these lists and sites. Had to pick and choose with me using pseudonym on non-government forms. Especially after Patriot Act passed with a form of martial law (“state of emergency”).
This is somewhat a hitlist whether they intended it or not. The good news is the US police state stays in power by being very selective in how they act against dissent or use illegal/semilegal powers. As in, FBI usually uses regular laws in courts instead of scary stuff like rendition. They focus that on minorities or fringe groups they can justify as a violent, usually terrorist, threat. You have to cause a lot of damage and get in those categories before they’ll target you. The so-called permanent Washington doing this stuff will still be there under Trump with probably same policies.
So, people on this list are likely safe from murder or imprisonment. Immediate risk is headhunters for tech blacklisting them as troublemakers. Especially if they gain momentum. They’d think a bunch of Medium articles about six figure folks being unemployed perpetually would send a message. Far as government, worst escalation I see is you get on a list with extra scrutiny at airports or for govt contracts/positions. I doubt this pledge is even on their radar unless Thiel or someone connected brings it up.
Also: random (“anonymous”) people on the Internet who may decide to target you, en masse. For the population of planet Earth, targeting and attacking individuals is easy, cheap, and risks few consequences. All authorities have to do to benefit from this phenomenon is… do nothing at all. See also: Kristallnacht.
And that is reason I write as Nick P. Good one! The feds kniw who I am. Im probably fucked in the long term on that if police state treatment broadens. The assaults by the trolls or payback from organized crime would be wave after wave that’s aggravating and draining if nothing else. On top of an alreafy stressful life. Unlike just during a job interview or airport visit where I can at least get a break between times hassled.
They’re like a DDOS attack on the mind. A pseudonym filters them a bit. So, there is that benefit. Not unlike many security tech like whitelisting and NAT that doesnt top the skilled but filters out the riff raff.
You say that as if being on the no-fly list would be a minor inconvenience, rather than the life-changing thing it is.
Who said No Fly List? That would be pretty bad. If this list got them there, it would definitely be worth worrying about.
The scrutiny I was referring to is where they start giving you “random” screenings, searches, interrogations, and so on. You can still fly but it’s aggravating. This is what happens the most to political targets. DNF list is separate and I at least dont see tech activists in it.
Ah, fair. I get the manual genital inspection most of the time anyway, because I’m trans, and I agree that it’s aggravating but not life-changing.
Truly sorry ro hear that. Yeah, the point is the stuff is degrading and damaging but victims survive and even can keep being activists. Not like the treatment of terror suspects today or say black activists of 60’s.
…and potentially, worse than trolls.
A pledge is all well and good but it won’t save you when you’re forced to hand over identifying data
I think there are other effects too, it’s a signal to management and other engineers about what’s acceptable and what isn’t. For better or worse a lot of our ethical guidelines come from looking around and seeing what people around us deem acceptable and what they don’t. This pledge is 1000+ engineers saying “here are things we find unacceptable.”
Consider for example whether management is deciding to fight an illegal or sweeping court order, the knowledge that engineers will have their back in a fight or quit if they roll over could be pretty powerful.
You can force it to go to outright force (I mean you probably can’t stop the national guard from seizing your datacenter, but you can make it come to that, which has its own power), and you can probably destroy the data, if you mean the pledge and are willing to go to prison for it.
I doubt most of the people who signed this pledge would risk indefinite imprisonment because of it…
There are a lot of other things that could happen between saying ‘no’ and going to prison. Bad PR, congressional investigation, your company’s legal team sticking up for themselves, a judge ruling the statute is illegal.
You can resign. The idea here is not that we can prevent government from doing what it does, but that we can pledge not to willingly participate in a particular type of morally questionable practice.
You’re going to have a hard time finding a job in technology (at least in the UK, and probably the US) if you don’t want to contribute to (potential) privacy invasions.
This is knee jerk generalizing.
This pledge has very specifically to do with the current political climate here in the US, and in particular a number of statements made by our current President Elect about creating a registry for muslims.
Many of the signatories seem to reside outside the US and/or work for companies outside the US, so I think it’s more of a broad statement than that.
So you’re saying that a pledge to not do the very thing our president elect is threatening is not actually about what’s happening here in the US? Fascinating, captain!
And you’re saying that it doesn’t also have importance elsewhere in the world?
My point still stands that it is difficult to find a technology related job where you are not risking peoples' privacy.
If course it does, but the very first point is:
We refuse to participate in the creation of databases of identifying information for the United States government to target individuals based on race, religion, or national origin.
It cannot be much more specific than that.
It’s not a black or white dichotomy. There are many companies making e.g. B2B software, which are not interested in collecting as much information about the general population as possible.
The US government compels information out of corporate databases. So, the two should be assumed identical in a police state where the corporate PII might be comandeered later.
So these guys are strongly opposed to people being monitored or targeted based on their race or ethnicity etc, but apparently they’re not concerned about the government spying on political dissidents?
they’re not concerned about the government spying on political dissidents?
How can you tell that about the signatories from the article? It seems this organization is focused on one thing… doesn’t mean it has to be focused on all things or ignore everything else.
Indeed. How does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
This is silly.
Conspicuously absent from that list is “political beliefs” or something similar. Why not add it there, while at it?
They know the genocides they brought up wouldn’t have happened without police states and dictators. But they also know we’re all being monitored already, no matter what race we are.
Which one was the more pressing concern again?
As one who signed, the worry is not about the government spying on people; it’s about the government murdering them.
But regardless, there’s nothing in this that supports your statement. If you don’t like it, don’t sign it. If you think it’s missing something, submit a PR or start your own movement. If you want to spew baseless accusations about strangers' intent, take it to HN.
Agreed. I find a lot of the shallow, bombastic reactions to this article incredibly disappointing.
It’s almost like people are saying “How DARE you for trying to be a moral human being. Don’t you know the world is all shades of gray?”.
Some certain amount of that is to be expected, but it’s still frustrating :)
the worry is not about the government spying on people; it’s about the government murdering them
Yes, and that’s a general problem, not specific to races or ethnicities. Dissidents come in all colours and shapes.
If you want to spew baseless accusations about strangers' intent, take it to HN.
That’s not what happened though.
Even you acknowledged you know the real problem is governments murdering people, but the pledge is all about racial profiling. There’s a connection between racial profiling and genocides, but the common denominator in all genocides is a tyrannical government.
Does this include destroying all data used to check whether every organization or department or whatever employs a proportion of racial, ethnic, religious, etc minorities in exactly the same proportions as the general population of our state/country/planet, or are we just giving that up? Including both knowing the number of people of appropriate protected groups are in the company, and actually knowing the number of those groups accurately in your particular state/country/planet.
What are all of the groups that we’re designating as protected here? Does it include LGBT people, people with unpopular hobbies, unpopular political beliefs, people accused of crimes? People who are legitimate, for real, have actually blown up innocent people and openly proclaim their desire to continue doing so in the future, terrorists? People who didn’t support the right political candidate enthusiastically enough?
I think I’ll just reserve taking this seriously until somebody has actually quit a job, and see what they claim their reasons why are.
This won’t fly. Third of the people in tech are selfish capitalists, one third are conservatives who fear everything new and the remaining liberals have their hands tied. If you want to actually change policies, join a party and work on public opinion. Flood your neighbors with a positive view of the future that includes the minorities.
This is a pretty fatalistic argument. “No one will do anything because it’s hopeless.” Well here are people pledging to quit their jobs if they are asked to do something unethical. People and companies have agency and can choose to do the right thing. I understand you want bigger action but at the outset it has to start with small steps.
There are a lot of things engineers can do at the margin as well, like allocate for HTTPS encryption of all internal communication, ensure user data is deleted when users delete their accounts, and avoid collecting/keeping around data that’s not necessary anymore - just shifting a company’s priorities by a little bit can have an outsized difference.
“No one will do anything because it’s hopeless.”
That’s not what I am saying. I am saying that quitting will just mean some of your colleagues will comply.
Well here are people pledging to quit their jobs if they are asked to do something unethical.
So what? Will it change minds of those who are already lighting the torches? A few years back we wouldn’t even have this discussion. Everyone was expected to pull the plug on all their DBs if it saved a single life.
People and companies have agency and can choose to do the right thing.
Companies maximize their profits. The bigger, the less humane they are. People have been exposed to a constant fear mongering for the past several years. Or can you name a single politician or celebrity who is successfully spreading a positive outlook? You have pretty high moral standard for frightened people.
I understand you want bigger action but at the outset it has to start with small steps.
Right, such as retreating before the fight even started. Look at feminists, did they say “we won’t be satisfied unless we are treated at least 80% as fairly as men”? Or Stallman, did he ask for the software “to be ideally free, but closed also acceptable unless protected by DRM”? Let’s start with something big so that we can compromise!
You are kidding, right? Who cares about HTTPS when we are talking about recently liberal, now conservative governments indexing and massively deporting people? I understand that this might be hard to accept, but the government actually pretty much decides how things are going to be.
I am saying that quitting will just mean some of your colleagues will comply.
That’s possible. It also will impose significant costs on the business if a number of engineers quit, or become more difficult to hire. New people take a while to hire and train up.
Right, such as retreating before the fight even started.
I don’t understand this. “The action you are taking doesn’t meet my requirements, so why bother doing anything?”
Who cares about HTTPS when we are talking about recently liberal, now conservative governments indexing and massively deporting people?
One of the NSA’s primary data collection methods pre-Snowden was listening for and collecting data that Google/Facebook were sending from datacenter to datacenter over unencrypted HTTP. Insofar as that data can be used to target people it seems like encrypting it would be a good idea.
Companies maximize their profits. The bigger, the less humane they are.
As just one counterexample of a massively profitable company that has taken unprofitable and/or humane actions, Google has devoted a ton of time and resources into securing their internal communications and more broadly helping secure the Internet at large, via Project Zero, donations to openssl, work on certificate transparency and others.
In her (negative) original article, Sarah Kendzior is basically asking you to start being conservative (w.r.t. to your current values), i.e. not to move forward, but to build yourself a trench. I am sorry, but this is exactly the mentality that brought us current crisis. People fearing of change, building themselves a massive trench named Donald.
Who cares? Just ask telcos nicely and you get all information you need. People using SSL much? Transparent proxy with Verisign certs. Ideally claim that it prevents terrorism and that the government is doing it for your children.
You are thinking about technical solutions to societal problems. The truth is, the biggest weaknesses of the system are poisoned mass media, overworked people and prevalence of cynical leaders. Not something you can fix with computers the easy way. You need to go the hard way of actually making things easier for the overworked people, supporting good outlets and actively forming positive policies that lead somewhere.
Than you need to get elected and actually deliver. Find more support for your position, get more people aboard, establish high-quality internal architecture for the party/movement and implement correct tools. Deal with toxic people. Inspire scared people. Slow down careless people.
That’s not hashtag activism. That’s actual politics. And the problem with the whole manifesto (and the article that it references) is that signers actually think that drawing a line somewhere will change things. Because the only thing you can do when the line is crossed is some terrorism. Delete some databases, damage the corporation by leaving.
What am I trying to say is that if 1800 elite people are openly disgusted by Donald, they should join democrats and make them liberal again! With 1800 elite, liberal people in a party, having a common communication platform, you can change the USA! If you dedicate 8 hour a week, you will dominate the political scenery before the next election.
So if writing letters to your congressman fails, I guess you just need to go in there and gain control of the political system?
The people who show up are the ones that count.
I can’t tell what you mean with that, but the guy I responded to basically described taking over the political system.
At least that requires far more than “showing up”. In fact, it’s just not going to happen if the established interests see you as a troublemaker.
Sorry for waking up a really old thread, but the fact is that showing up on a party meeting could really go a long way. Most people overestimate politicians.