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Microsoft Employees Write Letter Supporting Tech Workers Protest in China

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  • Tech workers in China are protesting their working conditions through a GitHub project called 996.ICU, referring to 996 schedules which is a concept that tech employees should work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week.
  • Some Chinese browsers have censored the GitHub project prompting employees of Microsoft, which owns GitHub, to send a letter.
  • In the letter, the Microsoft employees showed their support for the project and urged the company not to cave to pressure and censor it on their browser, Bing.

GitHub Protest

Employees of the tech giant Mircosoft have circulated an open letter petition supporting tech workers in China who are protesting abusive working conditions. The letter urges the company to protect the workers from censorship.

Over the last month, hundreds of thousands of tech workers in China have started an online protest against unfair working conditions. Showing any form of dissent in China is incredibly difficult, especially online.

Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China, and other social media platforms are heavily censored. In order to even find a space where tech workers could organize, they had to get creative.

That’s where the platform GitHub comes in. GitHub, which is owned by Microsoft, is the world’s biggest open-source website that allows programmers to work together on code. The Chinese tech workers created what’s called a “repository” on GitHub, which is essentially a project where any number of people can collaborate together.

Instead of writing code, they shared thousands of posts protesting “996” schedules, which is the concept that tech workers should work 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. That might sound extreme, but the 996 philosophy has become the industry standard in China.

The workers called the project “996.ICU,” referring to an apparent joke that working a 996 schedule will send you to the intensive care unit. The point of the project is to demand better working conditions and demonstrate against 996 schedules, which the workers say are illegal under Chinese labor laws.

“This is not a political movement. We firmly uphold the labor law and request employers to respect the legitimate rights and interests of their employees,” the description for the project reads.

The repository includes evidence of bad working conditions, legal resources for workers, and petitions to Chinese government ministries. It also has a “blacklist” of more than 150 companies that workers say have inhumane working conditions. This includes huge tech firms like Huawei, Alibaba, and ByteDance, which created TikTok.

Just a few weeks after it was started, 996.ICU received more than 200,000 “stars,” making it one of the most popular GitHub repositories ever.

Microsoft Letter

The letter from Microsoft supporting the GitHub project was not unpromoted. Unsurprisingly, some Chinese browsers have started to block access to 996.ICU.

Now, Microsoft employees are concerned that their company will do the same. The branch of Microsoft that operates in China censors search results on its search engine, Bing, in order to comply with Chinese laws.

While Microsoft cannot stop other browsers from censoring the project, they have the power to continue to allow people to access it through Bing. That is exactly what the letter urges Microsoft to do.

“In response to these events, we, the workers of Microsoft and GitHub, support the 996.ICU movement and stand in solidarity with tech workers in China,” Microsoft employees wrote in the letter. “We know this is a problem that crosses national borders. These same issues permeate across full time and contingent jobs at Microsoft and the industry as a whole.”

“We encourage Microsoft and GitHub to keep the 996.ICU GitHub repository uncensored and available to everyone,” the letter concluded.

The letter currently has been signed by at least 100 different tech workers and will be updated by the administrators as more people sign it.

It is not just Microsoft workers that have signed on. The letter says that the employees launched the petition publicly at the same time that they announced it within Microsoft. As a result, employees at several different tech firms all over the world have signed it, including heavy hitters like Google and Facebook.

What Next?

With the petition gaining traction, it will be interesting to see how Microsoft and China respond.

There have been a number of recent examples of similar petitions and letters actually having an impact on tech company policies. Just last year, Google employees circulated a letter demanding that the company shut down a censored search engine for China that Google was secretly working on. Some software engineers even quit their jobs in protest.

Google’s CEO has since said they will hold off on launching the search product just yet.

However, on the other side, there are examples of employee protests that have been less successful. In November, Google employees staged a walk-off to protest an executive who had been fired for sexual harassment and received a $90 million severance package. Those employees are now reporting that they are experiencing internal backlash and even demotion, despite the fact that the company agreed to new policies regarding sexual harassment and diversity.

In China, that kind of backlash has serious implications. One 996 programmer in China anonymously told NPR that he was “scared to death” of political retribution, continuing:

“I am not optimistic about our long-term prospects,” the anonymous programmer said, “I think the Chinese Communist Party will see us as terrorists and use the most modern weaponry to make us obey.”

Additionally, according to NPR, more than 30 students, activists, and factory workers are have been detained since last summer for trying to unionize factory workers.

The potential backlash against GitHub is especially concerning. The site has been known for being an important and influential space for programmers to create and share anti-censorship software tools in the country, which makes it a perceived threat.

This most recent project is not even the first time GitHub has been targetted in China. GitHub was briefly blocked in the country back in 2013. In 2015, GitHub was taken offline by a cyber attack that servers eventually traced back to a Chinese state-owned telecom company. In general, access to certain pages and projects have been selectively censored.

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (The Guardian) (The Verge)

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Scammers Are Using Facebook to Trick People Into Thinking They Donated to ISIS, DHS Says

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  • The Department of Homeland Security is warning the public about scammers who are using Facebook Messenger and other chat platforms to trick people into sending them money.
  • After the fraudsters befriend their victim, sometimes by pretending to be potential love interests, they pose as law enforcement officials and convince their victims that the money was sent to ISIS.
  • Then they fool the victims out of money once more by connecting them with fake lawyers.

The Scam

Scammers are using Facebook and law enforcement phone numbers to trick people into thinking they donated to ISIS, according to a Department of Homeland Security fraud alert released Monday.

Fraudsters are using apps with messaging features like “Facebook Messenger” and Words with Friends” to befriend their victims. Another way the scammers will get close to people is by using dating services or chat rooms where they pretend to be romantically interested in their targets.

After gaining a victim’s trust, the scammer will describe some sort of hardship that they are going through in order to persuade them to send a small amount of money.

The following day the victim will get a call from a fraudster claiming to be a member of law enforcement or the DHS. To appear even more convincing, the scammers will spoof the phone numbers, meaning they change the Caller ID information to make the call seem seems like it is coming from law enforcement officials.

“The fraudster tells the victim that the funds they provided the day before went to a criminal organization or terrorist group, such the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Al-Qaeda,” says the DHS warning, “and threatens them with arrest and imprisonment.”

The scammer then directs the victim to contact another scammer posing as a “lawyer” by phone or email to clear up the issue.  That “lawyer” then tells them to pay $1,000 or more by wire transfer, check, or other methods as a “retainer.”

Be Wary

The DHS says it is taking this scam seriously and is reminding people that law enforcement phone numbers can be spoofed. “Legitimate law enforcement callers will never ask you to pay fines over the phone or request money from you,” DHS’s warning says, “If there is a question about the validity of a call, we encourage the public to call the relevant field office number of the government agency and ask to be put in touch with the individual who called you.”

Unfortunately, this is just one technique that scammers are using to get money from people. Tinder has been used by scammers to blackmail people into sending money. In some cases, the scammers will demand money and threaten to release risque photos that the victim sent because they thought the relationship was real.

Last year, there were reports that scammers were sending threats to random men demanding Bitcoin payments in exchange for remaining quiet about an alleged affair.

See what others are saying: (Gizmodo) (Fox News) (Miami Herald)

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Facebook Rolls Out “One-Strike” Policy After New Zealand Terror Attack

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  • Facebook has implemented a new ‘one strike’ policy that will prevent users who violate its community standards from using the Facebook Live service for a set period of time.
  • The rule change is in response to the livestreamed terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, that left 51 people dead.
  • The company also said it was investing $7.5 million into new research partnerships to help improve image and video analysis technology, after several modified reuploads of the attack managed to bypass its current system.

One-Strike

Facebook unveiled a “one-strike” policy on Tuesday that bans users from using its live streaming feature for a certain amount of time if they violate the platform’s community standards

“From now on, anyone who violates our most serious policies will be restricted from using Live for set periods of time — for example 30 days — starting on their first offense,” Facebook’s VP of integrity Guy Rosen wrote in a blog post.

“For instance, someone who shares a link to a statement from a terrorist group with no context will now be immediately blocked from using Live for a set period of time,” the post continued.

The social network also said that it plans on extending these restrictions in the near future to include other policies, like one that would prevent “those same people from creating ads on Facebook.”

What was the policy before?

Before the changes, if a user posted content that violated the company’s community standards, their post would be removed. Then if the individual continued to post violating content, they would be blocked from using Facebook for a certain amount of time. This included a block from the user’s ability to livestream.

In some cases, Facebook said it banned violating users from the platform after a single violation if the instance was severe enough to warrant it. The company cited “using terror propaganda in a profile picture or sharing images of child exploitation” as examples.

Investing in Research

The new rules came in response to the Christchurch, New Zealand terror attack. On March 15, a gunman killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch while live streaming the attack on Facebook. The footage was later reposted on other social sites like YouTube and Twitter.

The reposting and sharing of the footage was a massive issue for all the platforms. Facebook, for instance, said they removed about 1.5 million copies of the footage within 24 hours.

However, according to Facebook, many reuploads of the Christchurch attack were modified to avoid detection. Because of this, the company said it would invest $7.5 million into new research partnerships to help improve image and video analysis technology.

“Although we deployed a number of techniques to eventually find these variants, including video and audio matching technology, we realized that this is an area where we need to invest in further research,” Rosen wrote.

Facebook said it is partnering with The University of Maryland, Cornell University and The University of California, Berkeley to research new techniques to: “Detect manipulated media across images, video and audio, and distinguish between unwitting posters and adversaries who intentionally manipulate videos and photographs.”

The company hopes that the changes will help them battle future attempts to abuse the platform. “Our goal is to minimize risk of abuse on Live while enabling people to use Live in a positive way every day.”

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Engadget) (Forbes)

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iPhone Users Can Sue Apple For Monopolizing App Store, Supreme Court Rules

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  • The Supreme Court ruled Monday that iPhone user can sue Apple on the grounds that the company is monopolizing the market.
  • The decision stems from a 2011 class-action lawsuit that argues Apple essentially forces users to only use its App store and forces developers to raise their prices because of the company’s membership and commission fees.
  • Apple and other tech companies like Google and Amazon are concerned this judgment will bring more lawsuits and antitrust complaints against them.

The Supreme Court’s Ruling

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that iPhone users can sue Apple on the grounds that the company is monopolizing the marketplace with their App store, as well as increasing prices of the apps with additional charges.

This judgment overturns a previous court decision involving four iPhone users who filed a class action suit against Apple in 2011. In their complaint, the users claim Apple essentially forces them to use only the Apple App store. The complaint also says Apple requires an annual $99 membership fee for app developers and says Apple takes 30 percent commission on every app sale.

“Through these actions,” the complaint states, “Apple has unlawfully stifled competition, reduced output and consumer choice, and artificially increased prices in the aftermarkets for iPhone.”

Apple turned to a previous Supreme Court decision for their defense, citing the 1977 case Illinois Brick Company versus Illinois. In that case, the court ruled that only those directly purchasing bricks from Illinois Brick Company had the right to sue. The tech company argued that because the app store was technically a middleman between the app developers and the consumers, the iPhone users had no right to pursue legal action. In 2013, the court ruled in favor of Apple and dismissed the complaint.

“Given that none of the exceptions to the Illinois Brick doctrine apply,” the judge ruled, “Plaintiffs are barred from bringing claims because they are indirect purchasers.”

The iPhone users immediately filed an appeal to attempt to overturn the judgment, ultimately bringing the case to the Supreme Court of Appeals in 2017. The appeal case finally ended with a five to four vote on Monday in favor of the consumers. Justice Brett Kavanaugh was the deciding vote, going against Apple and surprising many by forgoing his usual conservative stance.

“The plaintiffs purchased apps directly from Apple and therefore are direct purchasers under Illinois Brick,” Kavanaugh stated as the reason for his vote.  

What Does the Ruling Mean?

The Supreme Court, however, did not directly rule on the 2011 case on Monday, they only determined that the original plaintiffs had the right to continue pursuing their lawsuit. Many big-name tech companies like Google and Amazon have voiced concerns over the new judgment.

They fear that allowing class action suits like the one from 2011 to proceed, will open the floodgates to many more antitrust complaints, resulting in costly and lengthy lawsuits.  

Edward Black, the CEO of the nonprofit organization Computer and Communications Industry Association, echoed the tech companies’ worries.

“We are concerned that the outcome of this ruling expands a previous ruling (Illinois Brick’s), and increases liability risks for multi-sided business models,” Black stated. “The decision may unintentionally expose businesses offering digital platform services to unintended liability.”

Apple’s response to the judgment, however, does not appear to show any concern about future litigation.

“We’re confident we will prevail when the facts are presented and that the App Store is not a monopoly by any metric,” they said in a statement. “We’re proud to have created the safest, most secure and trusted platform for customers and a great business opportunity for all developers around the world. Developers set the price they want to charge for their app and Apple has no role in that.”

If the plaintiffs decide to continue with their original class action suit, it will be the district courts decision to determine if Apple did, in fact, violate any antitrust laws. For now, they have the support of the Supreme Court to fight on.

See what others are saying: (Market Watch) (The Hill) (Bloomberg)

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