Happy Turkey Day's Eve! We regret to inform you that you'll be without your daily serving of our tech policy newsletter until Monday, but we hope you'll fill that void with excess yummy foods. Below: Apple sues over spyware and T-Mobile pays a hefty fine. But first:

Here’s where civil rights advocates say Facebook is still falling short

A string of investigations into the documents disclosed by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen have reignited concerns about the company’s track record protecting users of color, curbing hate speech and defending civil rights across its platforms.

On Sunday, The Washington Post’s Elizabeth Dwoskin, Nitasha Tiku and Craig Timberg reported that the tech giant failed to disclose research showing its algorithms disproportionately harmed minorities to the auditors it tapped in 2018 to study its platforms. The revelation comes amidst a slew of scrutiny from the Facebook Papers investigations and raises questions about how effectively Facebook develops and enforces policies to safeguard vulnerable users.

We asked three civil rights advocates — Laura Murphy, who led Facebook’s civil rights audit; Color of Change President Rashad Robinson, a prominent Facebook critic; and Common Sense Media CEO Jim Steyer, another high-profile critic who has close ties to the Biden White House — what they have learned from the Facebook Papers, and where they think Facebook and its parent company Meta are still falling short. Here’s what we heard:

Facebook needs to devote much more staff to its civil rights unit, they said

Facebook has touted the fact that, unlike many of its competitors, it actually agreed to undergo a civil rights audit and hired a vice president dedicated to the issue — a rare senior executive role — to address those concerns. 

Roy L. Austin Jr., who took on the new role in January, said last month that since then the company has “built a nine-person team of civil rights experts in hate crimes, voting, technology, policy and product.” Civil rights advocates say that’s far too small. 

“I hope that the leaders at Facebook realize that the civil rights team needs to grow exponentially,” said Murphy, who voiced concern last month about Haugen’s disclosures. 

She added, “Roy’s team is doing amazing work with the team that they have, but nine people cannot possibly tackle all of the civil rights challenges facing Facebook. Facebook leadership should publicly commit to growing that unit to ensure that the platform better serves its customers and society.”

Steyer said Haugen’s disclosures and public remarks make clear Facebook is “deeply under-resourced when it comes to issues relating to kids and families and civil rights and misinformation.” 

Civil rights initiatives need more buy-in from top brass

Meta last week unveiled a report saying it has implemented or is in the process of implementing a vast majority of the recommendations made to the company by civil rights auditors, including Murphy. In a statement to The Technology 202, Austin said it “marks the beginning of the Civil Rights Team’s path to enhance protections for marginalized communities and demonstrates our commitment to move toward increased equity, safety and dignity on our platforms.” 

While advocates praised the work of Facebook’s civil rights unit, they said the buck ultimately stops with top executives, who will need to commit to instituting more long-term changes.

“I want to give to the people that have taken these jobs the benefit of the doubt and give them the support and the space to do their work,” Robinson said of the civil rights team. “At the end of the day, they're only going to be as successful as the company allows them to be.”

Murphy argued that company leadership “continues to take an episodic approach” to civil rights concerns and needs to focus on building out its “permanent infrastructure.”

Murphy, who earlier called it “deeply concerning” that the tech giant did not share some data about the disproportionate impact of hate speech with auditors, also addressed the company’s recent announcement it plans to test new ways to measure data related to race on its services.

While she called its commitment “critically important,” she said even more crucial is that “the top leadership must also pledge to fix any disparities.” 

“For example, do Oculus and Portal work as accurately for darker-skinned people as they do for white or lighter-skinned users? Will the metaverse work equally for all people?” she said.

Joel Kaplan’s role steering calls is reigniting concerns, Robinson and Steyer said

Kaplan, the former member of the George W. Bush administration whose influence at the tech giant has long been a target of political scorn, has emerged as a starring figure in a number of recent damaging reports. 

Kaplan had opposed a plan aimed at protecting vulnerable users out of fear the new strategy would tilt the scales against other users, Lizza, Nitasha and Craig reported. (Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said Kaplan’s objection to the proposal aimed at safeguarding vulnerable groups was because of the types of hate speech it would no longer automatically delete.) 

Kaplan’s power to shape decisions relating to content have also rankled staff internally for years, according to reports by Politico and the Financial Times based on the Facebook Papers.

Robinson and Steyer said the reporting makes clear that Kaplan’s influence has come at the cost of the safety of vulnerable communities across Meta’s platforms.

“Joel Kaplan continues to put his hand on the scale to, you know, advance more racial discrimination [and] inequity,” said Robinson, who has called for Kaplan's firing. 

Steyer said Kaplan “has been shown repeatedly to have given terrible advice to [CEO] Mark Zuckerberg.”

He added, “Joel Kaplan is on the wrong side of history. Joel Kaplan is going to go down in history books as one of the people who have caused great damage to our democracy and our society for short-term economic business reasons.”

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Apple sued NSO Group, accusing the spyware firm of being “amoral 21st century mercenaries”

The tech giant wants a federal court to bar NSO from using Apple software, services and devices, Craig Timberg, Reed Albergotti and Drew Harwell report. The lawsuit represents the latest blow to NSO, which was sued by WhatsApp in 2019. 

The spyware company has come under increased scrutiny in recent months after an investigation by The Washington Post and 16 media partners found that its Pegasus spyware was used to target journalists and human rights activists.

“Thousands of lives were saved around the world thanks to NSO Group’s technologies used by its customers,” NSO spokesman Oded Hershkovitz said. “Pedophiles and terrorists can freely operate in technological safe-havens, and we provide governments the lawful tools to fight it. NSO Group will continue to advocate for the truth.”

Apple is also notifying NSO victims and contributing at least $10 million to cybersurveillance research and advocacy organizations, the company announced

Activist investors want the SEC to look at Apple’s handling of secretive agreements

Apple whistleblower and former employee Cher Scarlett, who has publicly criticized the company, showed Nia Impact Capital a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) that Apple offered her, Insider’s Matt Drange reports. Nia told the SEC this week that it “received information, confidentially provided, that Apple has sought to use concealment clauses in the context of discrimination, harassment, and other workplace labor violation claims,” Drange reports.

Nia wanted Apple investors to vote on a proposal to get the company to report on the risks of the agreements. Apple responded to the proposal by saying its “policy is to not use such clauses,” Drange reports.

“Citing her own experience receiving NDAs from Apple, Scarlett filed a whistleblower complaint with the SEC on October 25,” Drange writes. “The complaint, which Insider has reviewed, details what Scarlett says are ‘false statements or misleading statements’ by Apple to the agency.” Scarlett gave the SEC a copy of the settlement agreement Apple wanted her to sign. Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment from Insider.

T-Mobile will pay nearly $20 million to settle an FCC investigation into a 2020 outage

The company will pay $19.5 million and commit to improve its 911 outage notices, the Federal Communications Commission said. The settlement comes 17 months after a 12-hour T-Mobile outage caused more than 23,000 911 calls to fail.

T-Mobile has “built resiliency into our emergency systems to ensure that our 911 elements are available when they’re needed,” the company told Reuters’s David Shepardson. “Following this outage, we immediately took additional steps to further enhance our network to prevent this type of event from happening in the future.”

Rant and rave

Several hundred of Google's more than 150,000 employees signed a manifesto opposing the company's vaccine mandate, CNBC's Jennifer Elias reports:

The Verge's Casey Newton:

Others were quick to emphasize the total size of Google's workforce. Cruise's Ray Wert:

Inside the industry

Workforce report


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