Is There a Place for Ethics in Tech?

Newsletter and intel from the LaBac Hacker Collective

Is There a Place for Ethics in Tech?

This past week, a renowned research scientist in Google’s artificial intelligence division was fired, sending the internet into a frenzy over ethics in technology. The expert AI ethicist, Timnit Gebru (@timnitgebru), has since become one of the highest-profile tech workers to publicly admonish the industry’s insufficient pledges of diversity and inclusion. 

So far, the displeasing defenses that Google has responded with include a public acknowledgment that incorrectly described the incident as a “resignation,” and a public relations campaign run by the son of the former U.S. Secretary of Defense. Meanwhile, Google workers are organizing in protest of the firing of Timnit and others who have spoken out against the tech giant’s purge of tech-critical employees. All of this has caught the attention of federal authorities, who have joined former Google employees in a lawsuit against Google for unfair labor practices.

A question we posed to ourselves in light of these events: Is it possible for a tech company the size of Google to genuinely live up to promises of transparency, ethical technology, and “don't be evil”? Or is a strict allegiance to these values simply incompatible past a certain scale of a company?

It is unclear. And it is certainly concerning, given the mounting evidence of bias that artificial intelligence seems to possess.

Transparency & tech: Where are we headed with transparency reporting? (Friday, December 11, 11:30am ET) - Access Now is hosting a webinar that examines the future of how tech companies produce and distribute transparency reports, periodic compilations of security, trust and safety, and harassment data. Guest panelists include Google, Discord, Reddit, and more!

Industry Responsibility to Curb Exploitation and Hate

  • [New York Times][ArsTechnica] Pornhub profits off of videos of sexual exploitation and assault, including child pornography, taking little action to moderate nonconsensual and harmal content on its site. Meanwhile, payment processors Visa and MasterCard are investigating Pornhub and its parent company MindGeek over allegations of abuse. 

  • [Bloomberg] OnlyFans is a billion-dollar media giant closely associated with adult models, but the site is looking to expand its line up of content creators to musicians, gamers, and athletes — meaning it will have to resolve lingering safety concerns about its platform. 

  • [Twitch] On Tuesday, the popular streaming site Twitch dropped a new hateful conduct and harassment policy slated to take effect on January 22, 2021. In announcing the new policy, Twitch stated: “We know that many people on Twitch–particularly women, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, Black, Indigenous, and people of color–unfortunately continue to experience a disproportionate amount of harassment and abuse online, including on our service. Not only is this blatantly unacceptable, it also undermines the community we’re building on Twitch and threatens the long term viability of streaming as a career for everyone who wishes to pursue it.” 

Radicalized Hate and Fringe Media Outlets

  • [Exposed by CMD] VDARE, a Virginia-based white nationalist hate group, received $1.5 million from DonorsTrust, a fund that manages and disperses donations from wealthy conservative families such as the DeVoses, Kochs, and Mercers. 

  • [New Zealand Government] On Tuesday, New Zealand’s Parliament was presented with a report on the terrorist attack on mosques in Christchurch which resulted in 51 deaths and 40 people with gunshot injuries. The reported was completed by a Royal Commission established to investigate the event and includes counter-terrorism recommendations. 

  • [BuzzFeed News] Disinformation expert Jane Lytvynenko (@JaneLytv) compiled the year’s most egregious disinformation campaigns, highlighting the presidential election, race relations, and other divisive topics that tore America apart.

On Our Radar...

  • [FireEye] [New York Times] FireEye, one of the world’s expert cybersecurity firms, was targeted in what they claim is a sophisticated “nation-state attack.” The attackers seem to have made away with FireEye’s tools for collecting intelligence on foreign hackers. Given FireEye’s proximity to sensitive intelligence on hackers and how they operate, this is certainly a setback in the global security community’s protection from such groups.

  • [FTC.gov] [WIRED] A coalition of 48 state Attorneys General and the Federal Trade Commission unsealed a massive antitrust charge against Facebook, claiming that the tech giant conducted several monopolistic and anti-consumer transactions in a “systematic” fashion.

  • [Cartoon Network] Cartoon Network has a new public service announcement that does its best to demonstrate how we can all be actively anti-racist (and includes cameos from the characters of the animated show Steven Universe).

Hate speech website: rense[.]com

Who hosts: Multacom

Today’s site is rense[.]com. The site is a homepage and discussion forum founded by far-right radio talk show host Jeff Rense, who according to the Anti-Defamation League has a long track record of anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobic views that define his media content.

We have observed that Rense’s site resolves to an IP address hosted by Multacom, a regional internet hosting and services provider, at 216.240.137[.]172.