- 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)
Uber Forks Over $19 Million in Fine for Misleading Australian Riders
The penalty is just the latest in a string of lawsuits going back years.
Uber Gets Fined
Uber has agreed to pay a $19 million fine after being sued by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for making false or misleading statements in its app.
The first offense stems from a company policy that allows users to cancel their ride at no cost up to five minutes after the driver has accepted the trip. Despite the terms, between at least December 2017 and September 2021, over two million Australians who wanted to cancel their ride were nevertheless warned that they may be charged a small fee for doing so.
Uber said in a statement that almost all of those users decided to cancel their trips despite the warnings.
The cancellation message has since been changed to: “You won’t be charged a cancellation fee.”
The second offense, occurring between June 2018 and August 2020, involved the company showing customers in Sydney inflated estimates of taxi fares on the app.
The commission said that Uber did not ensure the algorithm used to calculate the prices was accurate, leading to actual fares almost always being higher than estimated ones.
The taxi fare feature was removed in August 2020.
A Troubled Legal History
Uber has been sued for misleading its users or unfairly charging customers in the past.
In 2016, the company paid California-based prosecutors up to $25 million for misleading riders about the safety of its service.
An investigation at the time found that at least 25 of Uber’s approved drivers had serious criminal convictions including identity theft, burglary, child sex offenses and even one murder charge, despite background checks.
In 2017, the company also settled a lawsuit by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for $20 million after it misled drivers about how much money they could earn.
In November 2021, the Justice Department sued the company for allegedly charging disabled customers a wait-time fee even though they needed more time to get in the car, then refused to refund them.
Later the same month, a class-action lawsuit in New York alleged that Uber charged riders a final price higher than the upfront price listed when they ordered the ride.
See what others are saying: (ABC) (NASDAQ) (Los Angeles Times)
Report Finds That Instagram Promotes Pro-Eating Disorder Content to 20 Million Users, Including Children
According to the study, even users hoping to recover were given eating disorder content because they were “still in Instagram’s algorithmically curated bubble.”
Instagram Promotes Eating Disorder Content
Instagram promotes pro-eating disorder content to millions of its users, including children as young as nine-years-old, according to a Thursday report from the child advocacy non-profit group Fairplay.
The report, titled “Designing for Disorder: Instagram’s Pro-eating Disorder Bubble,” studied what it called an eating disorder “bubble,” which consisted of nearly 90,000 accounts that reached 20 million unique users. The average age of the bubble was 19, but researchers found users aged nine- and 10-years-old that followed three or more of these accounts. Roughly one-third of those in the bubble were underage.
According to Fairplay, Instagram’s parent company Meta derives $2 million in revenue a year from the bubble and another $228 million from those who follow it.
“In addition to being profitable, this bubble is also undeniably harmful,” the report said. “Algorithms are profiling children and teens to serve them images, memes and videos encouraging restrictive diets and extreme weight loss.”
“Meta’s pro-eating disorder bubble is not an isolated incident nor an awful accident,” it continued. “Rather it is an example of how, without appropriate checks and balances, Meta systematically puts profit ahead of young people’s safety and wellbeing.”
Researchers identified the bubble by first looking at 153 seed accounts with over 1,000 followers that posted content celebrating eating disorders. Some used phrases like “thinspiration” or other slang terms like “ana” and “mia” to refer to specific eating disorders. Others included an underweight body mass index in their bios.
Those seed accounts alone had roughly 2.3 million collective followers, 1.6 million of which were unique. Of those unique users, researchers looked at how many seed accounts each followed to determine that nearly 90,000 accounts were part of the eating disorder bubble. Those accounts totaled over 28 million followers, 20 million of which were unique.
These pages posted content ranging from memes and photos of extreme thinness to screenshots of progress on calorie counting apps. One user said they were on their third day of eating just 300 calories.
Others, including children under the age of 13, put their current weights and goal weights in their account bios. Some wrote that they “hate food” or were “starving for perfection.”
Content’s Impact on Children
Fairplay claimed that many of those in the bubble wanted to recover but were essentially trapped in Instagram’s algorithm.
“Many of the biographies of users in the bubble talk about wanting to or being in recovery, wanting to get ‘better’, to ‘heal’ or being aware of how unwell they were,” the report said. “However, these users are still in Instagram’s algorithmically curated bubble. They will still be feeding content from other accounts in the bubble, including the seed accounts, that normalizes, glamorizes or promotes eating disorders.”
The report also showcased the firsthand account of a 17-year-old eating disorder survivor and activist identified as Kelsey. Kelsey wrote that it was impossible to “imagine a time when the app didn’t have the sort of content that promotes disordered eating behavior.”
“I felt like my feed was always pushed towards this sort of content from the moment I opened my account,” Kelsey continued.
“That type of content at one point even got so normalized that prominent figures such as the Kardashians and other female and male influencers were openly promoting weight loss supplements and diet suppressors in order to help lose weight.”
Kelsey said Instagram delivered that content without any relevant searches, but posts about body positivity needed to be actively sought out.
The report concluded by arguing that there needs to be legislation that regulates platforms like Instagram by requiring them to prioritize user safety, particularly for children.
Meta and Instagram have long been accused of disregarding child safety. Last year, a whistleblower unveiled documents that revealed the company knew of the harm it posed to young people, specifically regarding body image. A Meta spokesperson told The Hill that they were unable to address the most recent allegations in Fairplay’s report.
“We’re not able to fully address this report because the authors declined to share it with us, but reports like this often misunderstand that completely removing content related to peoples’ journeys with or recovery from eating disorders can exacerbate difficult moments and cut people off from community,” the spokesperson said.
Etsy Sellers Strike Amid Increased Transaction Fees and Mandatory Offsite Advertising
“What began as an experiment in marketplace democracy has come to resemble a dictatorial relationship between a faceless tech empire and millions of exploited, majority-women craftspeople,” an Etsy seller wrote in a petition.
Thousands of Etsy Sellers Shut Down Shops
Roughly 15,000 Etsy sellers are closing up their online shops starting Monday in protest of several grievances they have with the platform, including a new fee increase.
Starting on Monday, transaction fees are getting boosted from 5% to 6.5% on the platform. CEO Josh Silverman sent a memo claiming that this hike will allow the company to “make significant investments in marketing, seller tools, and creating a world-class customer experience,” but sellers have been frustrated by the change.
“Etsy’s last fee increase was in July 2018. If this new one goes through, our basic fees to use the platform will have more than doubled in less than four years,” seller Kristi Cassidy wrote in a petition calling for a strike. As of Monday morning, over 50,000 Etsy sellers, customers, and employees had signed the petition.
“These basic fees do not include additional fees for Offsite ads – which started during the first wave of the pandemic,” Cassidy continued.
Offsite ads allow Etsy to advertise sellers’ products on other websites like Google. Sellers who make over $10,000 a year reportedly have no way of opting out of the program and Etsy takes at least 12% of sales generated through the promotions.
“Etsy fees are an unpredictable expense that can take more than 20% of each transaction,” Cassidy wrote. “We have no control over how these ads are administered, or how much of our money is spent.”
Etsy became a pandemic success story as online shopping rose amid lockdowns. Many turned to the platform to purchase masks and other goods, prompting its stock, sales, and number of sellers to rise.
“It’s really obnoxious to tell us sellers, ‘Hey, we made record profits last year and we’re gonna celebrate by raising your fees a whole bunch,’” Bella Stander, a maps and guidebooks publisher who sells on Etsy, told the Wall Street Journal.
What Etsy Sellers Are Demanding
Currently, there are over five million sellers on Etsy. Cassidy hopes that if enough of them unite, the company will have to respond.
“As individual crafters, makers and small businesspeople, we may be easy for a giant corporation like Etsy to take advantage of,” she wrote. “But as an organized front of people, determined to use our diverse skills and boundless creativity to win ourselves a fairer deal, Etsy won’t have such an easy time shoving us around.”
In the petition’s list of demands, it asks that Etsy cancel the transaction fee increase, allow sellers to opt out of offsite ads, and provide a transparent plan to crack down on resellers who take up space on the platform.
It also demanded that Etsy end its “Star Seller Program,” which impacts how sellers can interact with their buyers.
“Etsy was founded with a vision of ‘keeping commerce human’ by ‘democratizing access to entrepreneurship.’ As a result, people who have been marginalized in traditional retail economies — women, people of color, LGBTQ people, neurodivergent people, etc. — make up a significant proportion of Etsy’s sellers,” Cassidy wrote.
“But as Etsy has strayed further and further from its founding vision over the years, what began as an experiment in marketplace democracy has come to resemble a dictatorial relationship between a faceless tech empire and millions of exploited, majority-women craftspeople.”
In a statement to Yahoo Finance, an Etsy spokesperson claimed that sellers were the company’s “top priority.”
“We are always receptive to seller feedback and, in fact, the new fee structure will enable us to increase our investments in areas outlined in the petition, including marketing, customer support, and removing listings that don’t meet our policies,” the spokesperson said. “We are committed to providing great value for our 5.3 million sellers so they are able to grow their businesses while keeping Etsy a beloved, trusted, and thriving marketplace.”
The strike was a trending topic on Twitter Monday morning. Many sellers took to the social media site to pledge their support to the movement.
Many sellers are urging buyers to refrain from using the site for the remainder of the week, which is how long the protest is currently scheduled to last.