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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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Kickstarter Faces Backlash After Firing Two Union Organizers

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  • Two employees at Kickstarter are claiming they were fired for organizing a union at the company, which would be illegal if confirmed.
  • People tied to Kickstarter, and others, are speaking out in favor of the employees and encouraging the company to not fight the union.
  • Kickstarter denies that the employee’s terminations had anything to do with unionizing and cited their performances, though some have pushed back on that argument.

Employees Allegedly Fired for Unionizing

Two employees at Kickstarter claim that they have been fired for organizing a union. If their accounts are true, the company would be in violation of U.S. labor laws. 

First reported by Slate, the two employees in question are Taylor Moore, who was fired Thursday, and Clarissa Redwine, who was fired last week. Moore posted a Twitter thread saying the company offered him one month’s severance in exchange for signing an NDA, but he turned it down. He claimed a third employee also lost their job over the matter. 

“Today a third prominent member of the union was told there is no place for him at the company,” Moore wrote. “I stand firm in solidarity with my friends and colleagues.”

“The union busting campaign that Kickstarter management is engaging in is illegal and wrong,” he added before urging other employees to unionize. “It is an unforgivable abandonment of the values of an organization that I have loved and served with my whole heart.”

Kickstarter Defends Itself

According to the National Labor Relations Board, workers have the right to unionize, which includes distributing union literature, wearing insignia, and soliciting and discussing the union with coworkers.

“You can’t be fired, disciplined, demoted, or penalized in any way for engaging in these activities,” the board says.

Kickstarter, however, claims the union had nothing to do with these terminations. According to a statement they gave to The Verge, the employees “failed to correct performance issues that were documented and discussed in detail with them over the course of several months.”

“This is not as interesting as a story about ‘union busting,’ but it is the reality of what happened here,” the statement added.

Kickstarter backed their statement up on Twitter as well.

Employee Refutes Kickstarter’s Claim

Redwine finds it hard to believe that job performance was really the catalyst. She tweeted that she did well on recent reviews. Other Twitter users also credited Redwine for being skilled at her job.

She also said she would not sign the NDA offered and told Kickstarter, “you can keep my severance.” 

According to Slate’s report, Redwine filed an unfair labor charge with the National Labor Relations Board citing that the offered severance contained an illegally phrased nondisparagement clause. Kickstarter confirmed to them that they received the filing.

Support for Kickstarter Employees

Many voices started speaking up for the fired employees and the employees unionizing.  Andy Baio, the company’s first CTO, who as of 2018 served as a fellow to the company said, “I support the team’s right to unionize, and believe the company should recognize the union.”

“I can’t possibly know with certainty why Taylor and Clarissa were let go, but it doesn’t look good,” he added.

Boots Riley, musician and director of the acclaimed 2018 film Sorry to Bother You said he stood with the union and told Kickstarter to “stop union busting.”

The Kickstarter United account, which speaks for the company’s organizers and workers, released a statement about the matter. The company said it was committed to Kickstarter’s mission and “will continue to support creators currently on the platform and in our alumni network.” It is asking creators not to boycott the company.

“We deeply appreciate the support from our community,” they added. “The work we are doing is not only in service of employees, but the artists, makers, and backers throughout the Kickstarter ecosystem.”

See what others are saying: (Slate) (The Verge) (Huff Post)

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Jack in the Box Worker Fired After Refusing to Take Deaf Woman’s Order

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  • A viral video shows a woman in a Jack in the Box drive-thru being denied service, yelled at, and mocked by an employee.
  • The video shows the customer explaining that she could not order through the drive-thru speaker because she is deaf, but the employee refused to take her order regardless. 
  • Jack in the Box has since fired the worker and the customer says she plans to pursue legal action.

Incident Caught on Video

A Jack in the Box employee has been fired after he was recorded refusing to take a deaf woman’s order and mocking her sign language. 

ReVae Arnaud-Jensen and her son visited the fast-food chain in Campbell, California on Aug 31. Arnaud-Jenson, who has been deaf her entire life but can speak and read lips, tried to place her order at the first window of the store’s drive-thru and explain her situation. 

However, Arnaud-Jensen was shocked by the hostile exchange that occurred between her and a store employee. The worker at the window repeatedly refused to take her order, even after Arnaud-Jensen told him she is deaf. 

In the video, the employee is heard shouting at her to move out of the drive-thru and go back to place her order at the speaker. “I can’t hear. “You’re discriminating me,” Arnaud-Jensen says pointing to her ear. 

“Whatever. Whatever,” the employee responds. “Go! Move!”

He shouts back explaining that he said “Can I help you?” earlier, but she didn’t respond. She tries to ask for her order while continuing to tell him that she is deaf and can’t use the speaker. 

“I don’t care. I don’t care, go,” he tells her. The yelling between the two quickly escalates. “Shut up!” he screams at her as he continues to deny her service.

At one point, the employee tries to have her park away from the window, saying her food will be brought over to her car, but she refuses. “I will sit here and wait for you,” she tells him. “I’m going to wait for you until I get my food and then I’ll pay you. Thank you. If you want to have a lawsuit, go ahead.”

When the employee notices that he is being recorded by the customer’s son, he starts mocking her sign language, giving the camera a thumbs up and waving his hands around while laughing.

The employee eventually closes the window on her and walks away.

Arnaud-Jensen shared the video on her Facebook page, where she wrote that she sat in the drive-thru for two hours.

“This is common for deaf people to experience this, including me,” Arnaud-Jensen added in a comment. “This is not my first time. I had this happen to me several times, however, this one was the worst I have experienced.”

She later spoke to WKYT about the incident saying, “I was just fed up, the constant, you know, telling us to go, when it should be equal access.”

“This needs to stop. It’s very common everywhere. It needs to stop. This is 2019. I fight for equal access. And I feel awful. I feel like it was my fault.”

Her son, Malachi Jense, told NBC News he was shocked by the situation. “It was my first time seeing an employee acting like that, and honestly I was very shocked. I felt pretty mad too because deaf people very often get treated differently.”

Employee Terminated

A spokesperson for Jack in the Box said the employee was fired over the incident.

“We do not tolerate the mistreatment of any customers and expect employees to follow all training procedures, be respectful, courteous and accommodating to all guests,” the company said in a statement to NBC Bay Area 

“After a thorough investigation of the incident and direct contact with the local franchise owner, we understand the employee in the video has been terminated.”

Arnaud- Jenson told the station that firing the worker wasn’t enough and said she plans to take legal action. “It’s not only training… You need that depth of knowledge of deaf culture to fully understand the needs,” she said.

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (KUTV) (Insider)

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Adult Entertainment Industry Praises BangBros for Destroying Porn Doxing Site PornWikiLeaks

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  • Pornography production company BangBros announced that it had purchased the website PornWikiLeaks, which was well known for doxing adult film stars and exposing their personal information online.
  • In a statement on PornWikiLeak’s website, BangBros said that it has shut down the site for good and removed all the information. It also linked to a video of someone burning hard drives that allegedly contained the site’s data.
  • Adult film stars like Rachel Starr and Diamond Foxxx, as well as industry leaders like Playboy Plus, commended the move online.

BangBros Acquires PornWikiLeaks

Performers in the adult film industry are praising pornographic production company BangBros for buying and shutting down the website PornWikiLeaks, which was known for doxing adult film stars.

Since it was created in 2010, PornWikiLeaks has revealed the personal information of around 15,000 adult film stars, including not only their real names, but their addresses, phone numbers, and information about their families.

Like the original WikiLeaks, PornWikiLeaks reportedly claimed to expose corruption in the industry. 

It allegedly obtained that information from a leak in a patient database managed by a company called AIM Medical Associates, where many performers go to get STD testing, and which has since been shut down.

In addition to sharing personal information, the website also included whether or not each performer did “crossover” work, meaning both gay and straight porn. 

BangBros announced the acquisition in a statement on the PornWikiLeaks homepage Thursday.

“For too long, this site has unfortunately been a resource for hate, lies, and sensitive information,” the statement said. “Many of us have had our real names online for the world to see. Over 15,000 performers real names were listed here.”

“That type of information wasn’t voluntarily submitted. It was stolen from anyone that had it posted,” it continued. “BangBros had enough. We have purchased this site with the intention of shutting it down and removing all information associated with it.”

“If you had anything ever posted on here, it will be removed and deleted forever from here,” it concluded.

The statement also included a link to a video titled “All the Pornwikileaks Data,” which showed someone pouring flammable fluid on a bunch of hard drives and lighting them on fire.

Industry Responses

Adult film stars and others in the industry applauded the move on social media.

Performers like Rachel Starr and Claire Dames thanked BangBros on Twitter.

Adult film star Diamond Foxxx also thanked the company for ending PornWikiLeaks, adding that she was personally affected by the site “to the point I was forced to sell my home and move and also changing my phone number several times.”

The official Twitter account for Playboy Plus also commended the move, and thanked BangBros for “protecting the privacy of all sex workers.”

GirlsDoPorn Lawsuit & Past Controversies

While the website is now shut down, many have also pointed out the lasting damage it has caused for so many people.

In fact, the announcement from BangBros comes right after a lawsuit filed against the amateur website Girls Do Porn began its trial proceedings in San Diego Superior Court.

In that lawsuit, 22 women claim that they were tricked into performing pornography after responding to ads for models for photos and videos on Craigslist.

Many of the women reportedly still agreed to make the pornographic videos after they were promised they would never be posted on the internet.

However, the videos were posted on the Girls Do Porn website, and they were also distributed to sites like PornHub.

After the videos were posted, the women’s names and private information appeared PornWikileaks. The plaintiffs also claim that the videos were sent to their families and college classmates.

As a result, some of the women in the lawsuit lost their jobs or were expelled from college. Notably, a Miss Teen Delaware winner was stripped of her crown. Now, the women in the lawsuit are asking for $22 million in damages.

While the lawsuit is explicitly against people directly involved in the Girls Do Porn company, the defendant’s lawyers have basically argued that the exposure is entirely the fault of PornWikiLeaks.

“What Plaintiffs complain about are the actions of third parties — ‘internet trolls’ — who ferreted out the names of the women on the internet,” lawyers for the producers said in court filings accessed by The New York Times.

However, on Tuesday, VICE reported that a videographer named in the lawsuit admitted to lying to women by promising them the videos would not be posted online.

Some have wondered on social media if burning the hard drives for PornWikiLeaks was destroying evidence, but since they are not directly named in the lawsuit, it seems unlikely.

See what others are saying: (VICE) (Mashable) (The Daily Beast)

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