- 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.
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.
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.
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)
Misinformation Makes Up 20% of Top Search Results For Current Events on TikTok, New Research Finds
According to the report, the app “is consistently feeding millions of young users health misinformation, including some claims that could be dangerous to users’ health.”
Misinformation Thrives on TikTok
As TikTok becomes Gen Z’s favorite search engine, new research by journalism and tech group NewsGuard found that the video app frequently suggests misinformation to users searching for news-related topics.
NewsGuard used TikTok’s search bar to look up trending news subjects like the 2020 election, COVID-19, the invasion of Ukraine, the upcoming midterms, abortion, school shootings, and more. It analyzed 540 videos based on the top 20 results from 27 subject searches, finding false or misleading claims in 105 of those posts.
In other words, roughly 20% of the results contained misinformation.
Some of NewsGuard’s searches contained neutral phrases and words like “2022 election” or “mRNA vaccine,” while others were loaded with more controversial language like “January 6 FBI” or “Uvalde TX conspiracy.” In many cases, those controversial phrases were suggested by TikTok’s own search bar.
The researchers noted that, for example, during a search on climate change, “climate change debunked” showed up. While looking up COVID-19 vaccines, searches for “covid vaccine injury” or “covid vaccine exposed” were recommended.
Dangerous Results Regarding Health and More
The consequences of some of the false claims made in these videos can be severe. NewsGuard wrote in its report that the search engine “is consistently feeding millions of young users health misinformation, including some claims that could be dangerous to users’ health.”
Among the hoards of hazardous health claims were videos falsely suggesting that COVID-19 vaccines are toxic and cause permanent damage to organs. The report found that there are still several videos touting the anti-parasite hydroxychloroquine as a cure-all remedy, not just for COVID, but for any illness.
Searches regarding herbal abortions were particularly troublesome. While certain phrases like “mugwort abortion” were blocked, the researchers found several ways around this that lead to multiple videos touting debunked DIY abortion remedies that are not only proven to be ineffective, but can also pose serious health risks.
NewsGuard claimed that the social media app vowed to remove this content in July, but “two months later, herbal abortion content continues to be easily accessible on the platform.”
Other standard forms of conspiracy fodder also occupied space in top search results, including claims that the Uvalde school shooting was planned and that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
TikTok’s Search Engine Vs. Google
As part of its research, NewsGuard compared TikTok’s search results and suggestions with Google and found that, by comparison, the latter “provided higher-quality and less-polarizing results, with far less misinformation.”
“For example, searching ‘covid vaccine’ on Google prompted ‘walk-in covid vaccine,’ ‘which covid vaccine is best,’ and ‘types of covid vaccines,’” NewsGuard wrote. “None of these terms was suggested by TikTok.”
This is significant because recent reports show that young Internet users have increasingly turned to TikTok as a search engine over Google. While this might elicit safe results for pasta recipes and DIY tutorials, for people searching for current affairs, there could be significant consequences.
NewsGuard said that it flagged six videos containing misinformation to TikTok, and the social media app ended up taking those posts down. In a statement to Mashable, the company pledged to fight against misinformation on its platform.
“Our Community Guidelines make clear that we do not allow harmful misinformation, including medical misinformation, and we will remove it from the platform,” the statement said. “We partner with credible voices to elevate authoritative content on topics related to public health, and partner with independent fact-checkers who help us to assess the accuracy of content.”
Over 70 TikTok Creators Boycott Amazon as Workers Protest Conditions and Pay
As the company fends off pressure on both fronts, the Amazon Labor Union continues to back election petitions around the country including one filed Tuesday in upstate New York.
Gen Z Goes to War With Amazon
More than 70 big TikTok creators have pledged not to work with Amazon until it gives in to union workers’ demands, including calls for higher pay, safer working conditions, and increased paid time off.
Twenty-year-old TikToker Elise Joshi, who serves as deputy executive director for the advocacy group organizing the boycott, Gen Z for Change, posted an open letter on Twitter Tuesday.
“Dear Amazon.com,” it reads, “We are a coalition of over 70 TikTok creators with a combined following of 51 million people. Today, August 16th, 2022, we are joining together in solidarity with Amazon workers and union organizers through our People Over Prime Pledge.”
Amazon has refused to recognize the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) since workers voted to unionize at a Staten Island warehouse in April, and it has resisted collective bargaining negotiations.
Although the ALU is not involved in the boycott, its co-founder and interim President Chris Smalls expressed support for it in a statement to The Washington Post, saying, “It’s a good fight to take on because Amazon definitely is afraid of how we used TikTok during our campaigns.”
While the ALU posts videos on TikTok to drum up popular support for the labor movement, Amazon has sought to win large influencers over to its side. In 2017, it launched the Amazon Influencer Program, which offered influencers the opportunity to earn revenue by recommending products in personalized Amazon storefronts.
Last May, the company flew over a dozen Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok stars to a luxurious resort in Mexico.
Emily Rayna Shaw, a TikTok creator with 5.4 million followers who has partnered with Amazon in the past, is participating in the boycott.
“I think their method of offering influencers life-changing payouts to make them feel as if they need to work with them while also refusing to pay their workers behind the scenes is extremely wrong,” she told The Post.
“As an influencer, it’s important to choose the right companies to work with,” said Jackie James, a 19-year-old TikTok creator with 3.4 million followers, who told the outlet she will cease doing deals with Amazon until it changes its ways.
The ALU is demanding that Amazon bump its minimum wage to $30 per hour and stop its union-busting activities.
Slogging Through the ‘Suffocating’ Heat
Amazon is also facing challenges from workers themselves, with some walking out this week at its largest air hub in California, where company-branded planes transport packages to warehouses across the country.
They are asking for the base pay rate to be raised from $17 per hour to $22 per hour.
A group organizing the work stoppage under the name Inland Empire Amazon Workers United said in a statement that over 150 workers participated, but Amazon countered that the true number was only 74.
The Warehouse Worker Resource Center counted 900 workers who signed a petition demanding pay raises.
Inland Empire Amazon Workers United has complained about the “suffocating” heat in the facility, saying that temperatures at the San Bernardino airport reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for 24 days last month.
Amazon spokesperson Paul Flaningan, however, claimed to CNBC that the temperature never surpassed 77 degrees and said the company respects its workers’ right to voice their opinions.
On Tuesday, the ALU backed another warehouse’s decision to file a petition for a union election in upstate New York, roughly 10 miles outside Albany.
The National Labor Relations Board requires signatures from 30% of employees to trigger an election.
See what others are Saying: (The Washington Post (CNBC) (Associated Press)
Twitter Roasts Tim Hortons for Offering Coffee and Donut to Settle Lawsuit for Spying on Customers
The company allegedly tracked app users’ movements 24/7 to determine when they visited a competitor, a major sports venue, or their home or workplace.
A Not So Tasty Compensation
Social media users ridiculed Canadian fast food chain Tim Hortons over the weekend for a leaked email in which it offered to compensate customers whom it allegedly spied on by giving them a free beverage and pastry.
Twitter user James McLeod posted pictures of the email Friday, which was sent to affected users of the company’s app.
“You are receiving this email in connection with a proposed settlement, subject to Court approval, of a national class action lawsuit involving the Tim Hortons app and the collection of geolocation data between April 1, 2019 and September 30, 2020,” it read.
“As part of the proposed settlement agreement, eligible app users will receive a free hot beverage and a free baked good,” it continued. “Distribution details will be provided following approval, in the event that the court approves the settlement.”
The email specified that the free beverage would have a retail value of $6.19 (CAD) plus tax, and the free baked good would be $2.39 (CAD).
In a statement to Vice, Tim Hortons said the settlement is not admission of any wrongdoing and that the allegations in the lawsuits have not been proven in court.
“Add to this the fact that the coffee is absolutely abysmal and it becomes even more hilarious,” one person tweeted amid a flurry of criticism toward the company.
Another added, “Do you think the donut will have the good sprinkles or the bad sprinkles?”
‘Vast Amounts’ of Data Collected Illegally
Suspicion that Tim Hortons had violated its customers’ privacy began in 2020 when a reporter from the National Post found that the company’s app had tracked their location over 2,700 times in under five months.
Last Month, Canadian authorities wrapped up an investigation into the matter, finding that Tim Hortons tracked and recorded the movements of people who downloaded its app every few minutes of every day, even when the app wasn’t open.
Although the app requested permission to access geolocation data, authorities concluded that it misled users to believe it would only gather data while the app was open.
Using “vast amounts” of geolocation data, the company inferred where users lived, where they worked and whether they were traveling, according to investigators.
It even allegedly generated an “event” anytime a user entered or exited a Tim Hortons competitor, a major sports venue, or their home or workplace.
The investigation found that the company continued gathering data for a year even despite having shelved plans to use it for targeted advertising.
The company, which has committed to deleting all geolocation data on group members, said in a statement that it only used the data in a limited way, such as to analyze user trends.